10 Toddler Sticker Chart Tips

When it comes to encouraging a toddler or preschooler to do something you want them to do (like stay in bed during the transition to a “big boy/girl bed”), some will find a sticker chart as a good positive reinforcement tool. Rather than jump to punitive methods such as timeout or taking away privileges, using positive reinforcement to encourage behavior can be much more effective.

Your child’s temperament and personality will be a factor in how effective a sticker chart is. The use of a sticker chart takes a certain level of understanding and self-control on your child’s part, though, and that age will vary. There is a difference between knowing what he shouldn’t do and being able to control the impulse that “makes” him do something he can’t do. This is the primary reason that in the 2 to 4-year age range, most methods won’t ever work the first time for persistent children. While you might think your 4 month old (or 6 or 10 month old) is strong-willed now, by the time he reaches the age where he begins to try to become more independent, it can be very difficult to encourage the right behavior. A sticker chart is a good way to teach kids about cause and effect and rewards for hard work (After all, it’s hard work to control your impulses! Adults have trouble with that!).

Sticker Chart Tips

1. A sticker chart does not need to be fancy. You can start with a simple piece of colored construction paper and write “Jane’s Sleep Chart” or “Michael’s Good Job Chart” or that sort of thing. You can have your child help make it by coloring with crayons and other decorations.

2. Think about what is important to your child. Every child will have a “currency”. I don’t mean money. Your child might be into dinosaurs or dolls or M&M’s or TV or a special game with just mommy or daddy. All parents will have a different philosophy. Some won’t want to use food as a reward and others don’t allow TV. This “currency” will be unique to you and your child. When we were potty training my first son, we used Matchbox cars as an incentive when he had trouble pooping on the potty and it worked well. Those cars were VERY important to him and he rarely wanted to share them because he did work very hard for them, but we potty trained in 2 months (pee within a week, but poop took some time) and he was potty trained before the age of 3.

3. Try to keep the rules simple enough for your child to understand. Children will vary when they can understand the concept of the sticker chart rules. Some will be able to understand at 2 and others not until 3 or even 4. They all develop differently so this isn’t a reflection on intelligence. Also, your child may be able to understand the chart, but can care less about it until you either find the right “currency” or he gets a little older.

4. Decide how many stickers she needs to win a special “prize”. For particularly difficult problems, you might have to start with instant gratification and work your way up to using stickers, but if you are using stickers you’d choose a number of stickers they must earn before they get a prize. For example, if you are trying to keep a child in bed all night, you might start with bedtime and tell them that every time he stays in bed at bedtime, he gets a sticker and after 2 (or 3 or 4 or 5) stickers, he will get the prize (his “currency” from #2).

5. Be consistent! You can’t make rules and then change them. I also don’t believe that you should ever take stickers away. She earned them fair and square. If you earn a paycheck at work and make an error at your job, they don’t take away your pay (usually), so once she earns something, she should be able to keep it. It is tempting when she is misbehaving that you take some away, but this will sabotage your efforts. If she feels like they can be taken away, she will stop wanting to earn them. Imagine if you felt your paycheck could be taken away on a whim, you’d likely stop wanting to do any work for fear you’d do it for nothing.

6. Put the sticker chart where he can see it. You want to reinforce the idea of the chart and if he can’t see it, he won’t think about it. When we were working on a sleep problem (because, for us, they never go away 100% for son #1), we put his sleep chart taped on his bedroom door.

7. Involve your child in putting the stickers on the chart. You must involve your child as much as possible in the entire process. If you just announce there is a chart, explain the rules, put the chart in a drawer and you’re the one to put the stickers on, she won’t find the chart fun whatsoever. You have to be energetic and excited in creating the chart, involve her in the decorations, and make it exciting. Let her have some control (toddlers looooove control) by putting the sticker on the chart herself. It doesn’t matter if the sticker is crooked or in the “wrong” place.

8. Make sure it’s clear when she has earned a prize. You can put circles where the stickers will go and a star at the end of a row, so she knows when she gets to the end of each row. This is important, especially if he can’t count yet. Another alternative is you can make a small chart (think a piece of paper the size of a book) and once he gets his 5 stickers and his prize, you make a new chart.

9. Praise, praise, praise! Keep your excitement up when your child does well and praise often. They generally want to please you. Praise behavior you like, ignore behavior you don’t (unless it warrants time-out such as hitting or another “serious” offense. I highly recommend Hands Are Not for Hitting).

10. Slowly transition away from the chart. Once your child’s behavior has been consistently the way you want, you’ll want to slowly transition away from the chart (well, if she conveniently forgets about it, I’d just go for it!). You can play up the fact she is getting to be such a big girl and now she needs 7 stickers (or however many) to get the prize or change the prize or change the rules in some way that makes sense and keeps her excited.

What are your tips for implementing a sticker chart?

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8 thoughts on “10 Toddler Sticker Chart Tips”

  1. Normally I wouldn’t comment on posts but I felt that I had to as your writing style is definitely good. You’ve broken down a tough area so that it easy to understand. I believe that you would enjoy reading what another good blogger has to say on the topic.

  2. I have used a calendar that he gets to put stickers on for waking up witha dry pull up. This way he gets to see the progress each month. We started this at 3 and so far he is down about once a week wet now since Jan. I have found a kid calendar that he can draw his own picture for each month and on the 1st thats what we do and go over the events of that month. We also read the weather everyday in the newspaper for the week. Sticker charts are great!!!!!!! I have thousands of stickers and my son will do anything for a stricker.

  3. I have been having a lot of trouble with my 2 year old daughter at bedtime lately and I was thinking of doing some type of sticker chart for her. I’m glad I found these tips, reading them has been helpful in figuring out how exactly we’re going to go about this. Thank you for these tips!

    Caseys last blog post..giveaway found

    • @Casey Good luck! Please share how the sticker chart works for you and if you have any tips to share that are different than this list.

  4. @Aruni What a great idea on the dry erase board. Thanks for sharing! Amazing he had the self-control to be “good” for 30 days. You found a great incentive for him. 🙂

  5. We did something like this with our son but it wasn’t a sticker chart, it was a mini dry erase calendar board. Everytime he slept well he got a smiley face and if he got so many smiley faces he would get a treat or we would take him some where fun.

    One time I told him that if he slept 30 days in a row without getting up, fighting, whining, etc. he would get to eat pizza for dinner for one week. Guess what it worked! I felt like a bad mom but that seemed to click with him. I think that was the turning point to better sleep but even after then he still had night terrors and other issues but it definitely helped us to incentivize him!

    Arunis last blog post..Please, Please, Please Vote To Send Me To Tobago

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