Thoughtful Parenting: Star charts and stickers 101 |

Thoughtful Parenting: Star charts and stickers 101

Barbara Gueldner/For the Steamboat Today

— When young children are learning a new skill, star charts and stickers are popular. Potty training, making a bed, picking up toys, brushing teeth and feeding the pet are tasks commonly rewarded this way. Kids love stickers because they are sparkly and provide an opportunity to make a personalized choice. Earning a sticker after the task was performed is a reminder of a job well done. Star charts show a child their progress toward a valued goal or reward. Stickers and charts can be paired with verbal praise and encouragement and can incentivize some kids to learn otherwise boring life skills and make tedious tasks more fun.

Tips for using stickers

• Tell your child, "First you make your bed, then you can pick out a sticker." A reward comes after the job is done.

• Give your child the sticker immediately after doing the task.

• For children ages 3 and younger, put the stickers on their hand or shirt.

• When giving the sticker, state the behavior you saw that you liked. "You remembered to use the potty when it was time to go!"

• Keep the sticker stash stocked with a varied selection. Make new choices available so the stickers stay interesting.

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Tips for using star charts

• When the child is age 3 to 4, use simple star charts.

• Choose one or two behaviors on which you want to work. Too many is overwhelming.

• Explain what the chart means. "Every time you help Mom set the table, you get to put a sticker on the chart. You pick out the sticker. When you've earned five stars, you can pick the movie Friday night."

• Your child should put the sticker on the chart himself or herself immediately after doing the task.

• Review the chart each day at the same time.

• Give a small reward or privilege contingent upon the number of stickers on the chart. The total number should be easily attainable. If the number is too high, it could breed discouragement. Consider increasing the quota with time as your child's skill improves.

• Brainstorm a menu of rewards with your child.

• Rotate the skill you are working on and the reward or privilege. This keeps it fresh, interesting and rewarding.

• Focus on positive effort rather than perfect performance.

As children become adults, stickers and charts are replaced with verbal praise for a job well done; a paycheck, bonus or raise; or pure satisfaction. When used appropriately, stickers and charts can be a step to lifelong goal setting and attainment.

Information from “Preventive Parenting with Love, Encouragement, and Limits” by Dr. Tom Dishion and Scot G. Patterson.

Barbara Gueldner, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist specializing in children and families. She is a member of First Impressions, the Early Childhood Council of Routt County. Read her blog at

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