Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Miraculously Fantastically Magical Sticker

Never-- and I mean NEVER-- underestimate the power of a sticker.

No, that's not a typo.  I meant to write "sticker".  And by sticker, I do not mean "a pointy-ended object with which to poke at things".  The sticker to which I refer could more aptly be described as "cute, colorful, sticky-paper praise".

In general education classrooms, stickers have been employed for many, many (we're talking since-the-dark-ages-when-I-was-in-Kindergarten many) years as one of the ways teachers indicate a job well done to their students.  I used to love getting a sticker on my paper when I was in school (even in high school), because I knew before I even saw my grade that I'd done well.

When you take those same little sticky-backed disks of paper and hand them to a special education teacher, and they are instantly imbued with magical qualities.  Scoff all you like, but it's true!  Stickers, quite often, are the currency of special education.  Stickers provide for students that need to practice better behaviors a couple of things.  One-- they provide students with a visual tally of the times they exhibited good behavior, which becomes a reminder that they ARE capable to doing what they need to do to be successful.  Two-- the stickers (when enough have been collected) can be traded in for any number of desirable things that reward hard work-- extra time at a favorite activity, a trip to a prize box, a special treat, quiet time, or whatever rings the bell of the kid needing motivation.  The stickers are currency, and when the price (or prize, as it may be) is right, kids will work hard to earn them.

I realize this may seem like bribery to the uninitiated, but I promise you it's not!  You're not bribing them so much as you are helping them focus on being good.   You are motivating that child to not blow it and get in trouble over something silly!  A child that can be motivated to behave better through using a behavior chart generally wants to behave appropriately, they just need some incentive to keep themselves in check when the opportunity to misbehave presents itself.  (Kids that aren't motivated by a sticker chart... well, they might be more motivated by the other type of sticker, but you should probably let their parents handle that.)   If you can solve some major behavior issues at school with some stickers and a few inexpensive or free prizes, why not give it a shot, right?  And why not try it at home if it works so well at school?!

Well... if you are considering a sticker chart program to encourage good behavior with your child, there are a few things you should keep in mind when implementing your plan:

  1. Limit your behavior chart to controlling and rewarding only one type of good behavior at a time.  For example, at school Princess has a sticker chart rewarding her appropriate management of angry outbursts at school.  She earns her sticker each day that she: a) calms down in less than one minute after getting upset AND b) gets upset 3 or fewer times.  This plan has been working like a charm for her.
  2. Start small with low expectations and work your way up to your ultimate goal.  In the above example, Princess started her chart by earning her sticker for simply calming down in one minute or less.  Once that behavior was occurring consistently, the second part limiting the outbursts to 3 or less was added in.
  3. Make sure that the plan allows some room for error.  Don't set up the plan so that one incident of bad behavior ruins the opportunity for reward; otherwise, after the chance for reward is lost, your chances of controlling the undesirable behavior for that reward period are lost, too.
  4. Make the window of time for earning the reward manageable for your child.  One child may be able to work all week for a prize, while another may need a smaller window of time to stay focused.  Princess and Birdie work to earn a sticker daily, which they cash in at the end of the day with me for a bite of candy.  If they earn a sticker each day of the school week, they cash all five stickers in with their teacher for a special prize on Friday.  Each child's needs are different.  I find for my girls that the daily prize keeps them on track to be good, even if they have lost the chance at the big Friday prize with their teacher.
  5. Make a big deal out of it when your child succeeds!  Often, they want your approval as much as they want the incentive you've offered.
  6. Be aware that the things that motivate your child at school may not motivate them at home, or they may not work all school year.  The sticker/candy system is miraculous at school right now, but previously we have had to resort to more drastic measures.  At one point, I had Princess earning back her mac & cheese to promote the behavior we needed to see.

I see the magic of a sticker every single day that I go to work.  I have used sticker charts with students to manage on-task behavior, inappropriate outbursts, staying seated, inappropriate touching, and work completion.   My daughters have sticker charts that reward anger management (Princess) and materials organization (Birdie).  When done properly, these sticker chart programs are awesome.  The trick is create an environment of success early in the program, so that the student buys into the prize system AND feels like they can achieve the goal that has been set.  With time and practice, the student can be expected to do more to earn the same prize, and eventually (we hope) the good behavior will become their norm.  So far, it is working wonders for my girls.  I am sure that, like in the past, it will not work for everything, but it working for our current issues at hand.  Princess so wants to show me her sticker at the end of each day, and she always looks so proud when she does.  She told me today that now when "someone makes [her] angry in school, [she] looks at them and thinks 'there's no way YOU'RE going to make ME lose my prize this week!'  It helps me get not mad a lot faster, Mom!"

The fact that she is trying to, and succeeding at managing her own behavior is tremendous!  And if that's not magic, than I don't know what is!


  1. Hey... stickers and candy even work for my high school Spanish students!

    1. You just never know how little a kid will work for until you try!

  2. Thanks for sharing this. I'm gonna see how I can implement this for my three year old.

  3. What I was most thankful for when it came to stickers for Ri...Costco! :D

    1. I appreciate Costco for many of the *other* things that I can buy in bulk there... LOL!

  4. Stickers are magic! My three year old will do anything for the promise of a sticker!

    I'm a new follower from Local Sugar's link today! Love the blog so far.