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Buying good behavior with stickers

by Traci Schumacher on Wed, 05/08/2013 - 12:15pm

Yesterday afternoon my boys were playing together with little plastic army men. The trouble was that my 7-year-old was not playing very nicely or fairly with his little brother, which did not make my little guy too happy, to say the least.

I intervened a few times to try to make things go more smoothly. Just as I was about to send my son to his room for a while, my daughter stepped in and scolded him. Then she went to the craft cabinet and pulled out some stickers. She gave my little guy a sticker for trying to play nicely, and he was quite pleased.

I waited to see what would happen next, and before I knew it, my daughter had made a sticker chart and the boys were on their best behavior, playing nicely and trying to earn stickers.

It was interesting to me that my 7-year-old would respect his sister as an authority figure, but I guess his competitive nature kicked in so that he wanted to win some stickers. It was also funny because my son easily could have gone to the craft cabinet and gotten a sticker, but he really wanted the "good behavior" stickers his sister was handing out.

I tend to be ambivalent about relying on sticker charts and other reward systems. Are they purely helpful because they produce the desired behavior? Or do they subtly set kids up to perform well only when they can get something out of it instead of simply because it's the right thing to do?

I don't know, and I have used reward systems at different times with my kids, but mostly I try to refrain. Yesterday, however, my daughter bought us all a bit of peace with stickers.

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