In my seven-year tenure as a parent, there has been one parenting technique that I have found the most effective in creating peace and compliance in my home: the reward chart. We started doing reward charts with my kids at a very young age, and quickly realized that their motivation for earning stars each night was a huge bargaining tool in getting them to follow our family rules during the day. In fact, when we lapse from doing a chart, my kids’ behavior quickly declines (as does my patience).
Ever since my kids were small, we done some type of reward system. We try to keep it pretty simple. For us, we have a star chart that counts up six different behaviors each day, so that the kids have the potential to earn siz stars per day. Once they have reached seven stars under all six behavior areas, they can earn a prize. The prize is usually something small, and often times even something that I would’ve bought them anyway. I might use the prize as an opportunity to give them fun new pencils for school, or Halloween costume in early October, or even pajamas with their favorite character on it.
I’ve also catered each of our star charts to each child, because each of them tend to have their own behaviors that they struggle with. My youngest child has a column for buckling into her car seat quickly, because she tends to lag and make the family wait. Whereas my middle child has a column for using an inside voice, since he tends to struggle with yelling all day long.
Here are some of my best tips for affectively using a star chart system:
1. Keep behaviors specific. It is too vague to tell a child that they need to work on “self-control”. But if there are specific behaviors that warrants more self-control that tend to crop up time and time again, that would be a behavior that you could list specifically.
2. Use pictures for pre-readers. When we started doing charts, none of my kids were reading yet. So on the chart, I used a picture for each column that represented what they were working on. I did a simple search for clipart, and was able to find things like a photo of a star, a smiley face, or pictures of the bed to denote the column for making their beds. After a couple weeks, they were able to look at the star chart and remember what each column represented based on the picture.
3. Print out several copies at a time. Sad to say, but one of the biggest challenges for me in a star chart system is remembering to print out their star charts at the beginning of each new week. I have found that printing out several copies at a time, and then storing them on a clipboard underneath the current copy, means that switching over each week is a little more seamless.
4. Set them up to win. The star chart should not provoke anxiety, and if it does, it’s time to recalibrate. Encourage your kids and make it attainable. If they are missing more than two behavioral goals on most days, you probably need to lower the bar. Not receiving a star should be an exception, not an every day occurrence. Start with small goals that they can meet.
5. Keep it positive. While it can be tempting to use the star chart time to point out all the ways that your child disobeyed or didn’t follow rules, I think it’s most effective if you focus on the stars that they DID earn. It’s rare for a child to not earn at least one star per day, and if that’s the only star they got, that’s the star you celebrate. If a child is feeling discouraged, quickly remind them that tomorrow they can try again, and that you are confident they can do it. Your encouragement and confidence in them will help them achieve.
Do you use any kind of reward system with your children? Have you found it to be effective?