Mastering the Star Chart

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As a parent, by now you’ve heard of star charts and all the amazing things they’ve done for those organized parents.  I’m here to tell you that they are super easy to create and maintain as long as you remain consistent.  And you don’t need to use stars – use whatever token is motivating for your child!  Below is a step by step guide to a better behaved and motivated child:

·         Step 1: Choose one behavior to work on at a time.  Pick the one that is the biggest bother to you right now that you either want to reduce or increase.  Perhaps you want to reduce the amount of times your child whines on the way to the bath, or you want to increase the amount of times your child sits on the toilet to go to the bathroom.  But just choose one a time, and one per chart (once you master this you may have a couple of others going).  This will give your child the best chance at success and allow them to understand what is happening.

·         Step 2: Decide on the reward.  If your child is a little bit older, let them choose what they want to work for.  If they’re younger, consider giving them a choice between 2 different things.  Depending on the type of reward they are earning, this will determine how many tokens will get them the reward.

·         Step 3: Create the rules.  Let’s say you want to work on toilet training with your 2-year-old.  They choose to earn a cookie.  Initially, they can have a piece of cookie (or one mini cookie) each time they eliminate in the toilet.  You give them one token, which equals one cookie so they’re learning to pair that a token = reward.  Then, you tell them that they need to get 2 tokens in order to get the cookie (meaning they have to pee in the toilet twice before the next cookie).  This can build and build until eventually they are getting one cookie at the end of the day, or a spontaneous treat at the end of the week (way down the line!). The idea behind starting small is to allow your child to feel successful with the progress that they’re making.  A big mistake parents make is making their child wait way too long for the reward.  If you start out offering the toddler a piece of cake at the end of the week for using the toilet, the reward is so far away that it feels unobtainable and will not be motivating to them.

·         Step 4: Pick the tokens.  Stars are great because you can buy a pack of about 500 starts from target for $1, but don’t stay inside the box.  What does your child love?  Spongebob, princesses, cars, puppies?  Any of these can be used as tokens, either by buying stickers or creating your own.  If you’re an artist, you can draw them.  If not, you can download pictures off the internet and print them out.  Laminating the chart and attaching Velcro to the backs of the tokens is a great way to customize them and make them reusable.  Or let your child pick.  They don’t all have to be the same, and they can change from day to day or hour to hour depending on what your child wants.  There are a number of apps now that you can download to your phone or iPad that will also work and great for when you’re out and about.

·         Step 5: Prepare to be consistent.  Once you introduce this to your child, you are responsible for staying on top of it and giving out the tokens each and every time they are earned.  If you’re not prepared to be on top of it all day long, hold off on starting it until you are.  You also need to give them their reward the MINUTE they’ve earned all their tokens.  If you wait too long, your child will learn to distrust the system and won’t work as hard to earn them the next time.

o   Keeper of the tokens.  You are the keeper of the tokens and you are in charge of when they are given out.  Your child can remind you if you forget, but they should be coming to you to get them.

o   The reward can change.  Don’t get stuck on what the reward actually is.  If halfway through the tokens your child changes their mind from wanting 5 minutes of bubble play to 5 minutes of play-doh, that’s fine.  The goal is that they are motivated to continue earning tokens and therefore engage in the behavior that you want them to.

·         Step 6: Start rewarding!

Rewards are not bribery.  I’ve heard a lot of parents say that they don’t want to bribe their child with candy or toys to get them to do what they want.  Creating a star chart and offering a reward for good behavior is not bribery, it mimics real life.  It’s teaching your child that in order to get what they want; they need to do something to earn it.  I certainly don’t want to raise my kids thinking that things just get handed to them, but that those things need to be earned. 

Once your children are older, this same type of system can be turned into an allowance system, where completing chores earns them money for the week or month.  It’s a great way to keep track of what they’ve done, or haven’t done, and to pay them accordingly.  Star charts can also be used to earn really big rewards, like a trip to Disneyland or Chuck E Cheese, where maybe if they don’t wet the bed for 2 weeks they earn a trip.  There are so many ways that this can be used, and re-used, to teach your child the value of engaging in good behavior, that will motivate them and result in getting an awesome reward.