parenting · Twin life

Sticker charts: a game-changer!

It’s now been two months since we started our new sticker chart reward system for good behaviour, so I wanted to write about whether it had led to any lasting changes in our house. I’ve illustrated this post with photos from one of our recent ‘weekly treats’ – a family cupcake-baking session, at Joe’s request.

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Forgive me for indulging in hyperbole, but: sticker charts have changed our lives! Honestly, the effects have been revolutionary. You’ll remember that Joe’s frequent tantrums and meltdowns were making us very tired and grumpy, and turning Hattie into some kind of weird trainee Stepford wife who would do anything to try to prevent him from kicking off. It was a terrible spiral of crap, looking back: he’d play up to suck up our attention, and we’d fall for it every time.

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Eight weeks later, I can’t remember the last time either child had a meltdown. Occasionally – very occasionally – somebody might threaten to go off the deep end about a perceived injustice (the existence of bath time as a concept, for example), but a reminder that doing so will result in a sticker deficit seems to work like magic, enabling said child to regain some perspective and accept that, when push comes to shove, having a bath isn’t really torture. Friends who’ve also tried this approach report similar reactions: the very mention of the sticker chart seems to bring their children back from the brink.

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A few people have asked what we’ve done about stickers during kindy hours. Some parents who’ve tried our approach have just discounted the kindy hours, and only given stickers for hours at home. That’s a really great way to do it (after all, most kids only play up when they’re at home), but we’ve gone a different route, assuming Hattie and Joe are well-behaved at kindy and giving stickers accordingly. So, when they get home at 3pm, they are able to collect stickers for 9am – 11am, 11am – 1pm, and 1pm – 3pm. It’s a sticker bonanza!

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Two things have surprised me: the humble nature of the weekly treats Hattie and Joe have requested; and their ongoing enthusiasm for the system. I feared that the novelty would wear off after a couple of weeks, but no: they remain as committed as ever to collecting stickers. Offering an interesting array of cute stickers can help with this, I think. Yay for $2 Shops!

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And their low-key ideas for weekly treats is such a sweet reminder of how simple little kids really are. Joe didn’t want to go out for cupcakes: he wanted the whole family (including Daddy, who doesn’t usually bake) to make cupcakes together. Most of the weekly treats they’ve requested are things that we’d typically do in a weekend anyway: go to a playground; go swimming; head to a cafe for hot chocolates. The common denominator is spending time with Mummy and Daddy. It’s really nice to remember how much time with us is pretty much the holy grail for young children.

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I think the other reason that the whole ‘weekly treats’ thing works is because it gives them the opportunity to actually choose what we do, rather than Tristan and me always being the decision-makers. And it’s nice to be able to surprise them sometimes and let them think a little bigger regarding their weekly treat. This coming weekend, we’re going swimming on Saturday (because Joe missed out on a swimming trip last weekend, because he was sick), and – high excitement – to the movies. Hattie and Joe have only been to the movies a handful of times, and allowing Hattie to nominate that as her treat made me a very popular Mummy this week.

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Here’s one thing that is essential, in my opinion: always linking the weekly treat back to the child’s great behaviour all week. I try hard to reinforce how their good choices have resulted in a good outcome: “Thanks so much for being so fantastic all week and not having any frowny faces, Joe, so we could make cupcakes! It’s been so much fun to bake with you, and now we get to eat them – hooray!” This sounds cheesy, but I think it’s really important to remind them that they are the reason why everybody is enjoying themselves. They may not say much in reply, but trust me: they’ve got the message.

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At present the kids are up to the fourth letters of their names. I’m sure that, eventually, we’ll end this particular approach in favour of something else, but for now we’re maintaining an ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ attitude: as long as Hattie and Joe continue to respond well, we’ll keep handing out stickers. I’d love to hear from parents who’ve tried this approach – it would be good to share a few families’ success stories (and words of advice about how to tweak the system if necessary) in a future blog post.

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