Stop! Before you put that star on the sticker chart an expert has said that you might just be harming your child.

We’ve been doing a sticker chart with my six-year-old to get him to finish his homework. Each day when he completes his readers and his spelling sheets he gets a sticker. After five stickers he gets a packet of much coveted Pokémon cards.

He is a bit of a reluctant reader and by competing his tasks he is starting to find the process easier.

Its been working well.

It HAD been working well. Image via IStock.

Well, it had been working well.

All was going along hummingly when yesterday we hit a “sticky” spot.

"Quick do your homework" I urged him. "If you get it done in 20 minus you get a sticker."

A scratch and sniff sticker.. cool huh?

He sat there and looked at me. "Um, no thanks" he said.


"What do you mean no? You have to do your homework. You can’t just say no thanks. Don’t you want your Pokémon cards?"

He looked at me as serious as can be.

"Na, not really. I’ve got all the ones I want. I think I’ll go outside and play soccer instead."


Back to square one. The sticker charts had worked for a while but what do you do when they just don’t work anymore?

What do you do when they just don’t work anymore? Image via IStock.

Back to nagging, yelling, bribing? Increasing the reward to toys? Ice-cream? Visits to fun parks? A gold pass to Disneyland?

Where do you stop?

It seems my dilemma isn't new with many experts saying that the hidden dangers of sticker charts is that they can backfire on you, like ours did, and even have long term consequences.

Erica Reischer, a clinical psychologist and author of a soon to be released book What Great Parents Do has written about this issue for The Atlantic.

She says that the problem with sticker charts and similar reward systems “is not that they don’t work."

But that “rather, they can work too well, creating significant negative and unintended long-term consequences for both the kids and their families. “

She says that using sticker charts creates a “reward economy.”

“In reward economies, kids learn to trade desirable behaviour for a reward. Sometimes the reward comes directly, in the form of toys, ice cream, or books; sometimes its value is stored, like currency, in stickers or other objects that can be exchanged at a later date. Whatever the system, reward economies promote a transactional model for good behaviour: Children come to expect a reward for good behaviour and are hesitant to “give it away for free.”


She also writes that using sticker charts to reward behaviour that you just expect from your child, like helping others, sharing and empathy “may diminish future helpful behaviour and can erode children’s innate tendency to help others.”

Her article has created great debate online with parents feeling attacked “Oh boy everything we do is wrong” being the general tone of the comments.

She says that using sticker charts creates a “reward economy.” Image via IStock.

It’s not a new mindset, back in 2008 The New York Times spoke to  Alfie Kohn, author of “Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason” and “Punished by Rewards” about whether “paying children to be good” worked.

He said that at “least two studies have found that children who get positive reinforcement from their parents for helping or sharing actually become less helpful and more self-centred as a result.”

“They’ve learned that the only reason to do something for someone else — or, in the other example, the only reason to learn — is because they’ll be rewarded for doing so. When the reward is no longer available, they’re less inclined to help or learn than they were to begin with.”

He told The New York Times “rewards are just sugar-coated control.”

Tough words, but ones that make me feel inclined to agree with the commenters who feel their parenting methods, according to “experts” are never good enough.

In a perfect world we would work together, but life isn't perfect. Image via IStock.

In the perfect world of parenting of course you’d have the time to sit with your child and explain slowly and thoughtfully how important it was that they do their homework. In the perfect world of parenting you would ask them to help with the solution, you’d ask them to consider things and together work out an alliance to come to a solution.

In the perfect world of parenting the room would be quiet ( and tidy) no screaming baby, no siblings nagging for attention. Dinner would be cooked and bubbling away in the already-cleaned kitchen and you'd sit there and amicably chat with your six-year-old together in symmetry working on the problem.

There would be no need for sticker charts because well, you are a perfect parent.

But parenting isn’t perfect.

When you have three kids to navigate, a busy household and a life to get on with you do what you can.  When you have dinner to cook and soccer to get to and lunch boxes to unpack and a two-year-old to toilet train the "long term consequences" of a "reward economy" can faff off.

If a sticker chart and a packet of Pokémon cards make my life easier at this point in time then I, personally, am happy to risk the consequences.

Now I just need to find a new reward that works.

What do you think of sticker charts? Do they work for your kids?

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