Sticky Situation: Are Sticker Charts Doing More Harm Than Good?

  • Parents Only

By: Phoebe Ackland, ellaslist; feature image courtesy of cleanri 

Sticker charts are a big thing in many schools, but they are also a powerful tool used in many homes. They seem innocent enough, heck, children might even be begging for another ladybug sticker to be slapped upon the adorned sheet of paper gracing the fridge, but could they really be doing more harm than good?

Sticker charts are used primarily to change a child’s behaviour- to encourage good attitudes and actions and passively discourage negative behaviours and attitudes that you hope to see less of. Some think they’re harmless, and maybe even a miracle worker to stop tantrums and incite a few more household chores, but others disagree.

sticker chart Source: cleanri


Evolutionary Parenting tackled the issue, and came up with a pretty strong anti sticker-chart stance. Why? According to them, giving children a tangible reward (like a toy, trip to the park) when they reach a sticker goal is teaching children that they will always be rewarded for what they do, when what a parent really wants to do is a child to “internalize” that what they’re doing is inherently rewarding and brings inner-enjoyment, rather than a tangible reward. This idea of intrinsic motivation” is said to be the driver for why we do difficult things simply for pleasure (e.g a puzzle) or do chores (for a sense of accomplishment, a clean living space). Basically, Evolutionary Parenting states that “rewarding children’s behaviour with tangible rewards will at best not increase their intrinsic motivation and at worst will decrease it.” Some food for sticky thought.
The Atlantic goes a step further, saying that the question isn’t whether or not they work, but rather the issue lies with the fact that they often work too well. They claim that sticker charts  may “create significant negative and unintended long-term consequences for both the kids and their families. Sticker charts are powerful psychological tools, and they can go beyond affecting children’s motivation to influence their mindset and even affect their relationship with parents.”


reward child


Amy Przeworski Ph.D. wrote about sticker charts for Psychology Today, and encourages parents to use them with children to reward behaviour, rather than punish them- for example, she claims that the traffic light system (green light means good behaviour, yellow and red indicates bad behaviour) used in schools can be detrimental to children. Przeworski says that stickers or rewards programs aren’t necessary for behaviours in children that are under control, but rather are useful for targeting behaviours in your child that are of particular issue, like bedtime or teeth-brushing. Here are her dos and don’ts for sticker charts:


  • Make Expectations of Behaviour Clear: Identify specific behaviours you want your child to work on – too many can be overwhelming, although it might be tempting to go in all guns blazing.

  • Make The Prize/Reward Clear Beforehand: If you give your child a few options, you can put the limit on the extravagance/cost of the reward. Your child might get excited to work towards a specific toy and be more likely to co-operate with the sticker chart.

  • Make Rewards Achievable: 100 stickers for an iPad will seem like an impossible feat for a child, so keep the prizes within reach, and your child will stay motivated.

  • Keep Their Eye on the Prize: If you keep the reward on top of a high shelf within eyesight of your child but beyond their reach, this is another motivator for good behaviour, and makes the feeling of the reward tangible.

  • Consistency: You have to do your part with the sticker chart! Make sure you always have a sheet of stickers around- if you start to forget or don’t always reward them at the time of the good behaviour, children will lose interest.

  • Don’t Punish Them: The sticker chart is to reward good behaviour, not punishing them for bad behaviour. Don’t take stickers away- keep the sticker chart a positive experience.

  • A Reward, NOT A Bribe: Bribery actually encourages bad behaviour to continue, so remember that stickers are not a bribe! Good behaviour and the reward involved should be clear beforehand to discourage tantrums or negative attitudes. Credit to Psychology Today and Amy Przeworski



frozen sticker chart Source: Reward Charts 4 Kids

You can download free sticker charts here.

Do you have a sticker chart? Are you avoiding them for a reason? We want to know! Comment below.