Reward charts are considered to be an essential parenting tool by some. It’s a simple concept, favoured by most parenting gurus. Touted as an easy, fun way to positively reinforce behaviours you’d like your child to adopt, it’s hard to see the harm.
On the surface, they seem like a great idea. The child gets excited by the prospect of being able to place a sticker on their chart so they make an effort to do whatever it is the parent wants them to do – stay in their own bed at night, use the potty instead of nappies, or simply adhere to a daily routine. It’s an easy, cost-effective way to reward the child for ‘good’ behaviour, whilst ignoring the ‘negative’ behaviour. It’s just another way of praising them.
“I swore to myself that I would never use a reward chart, especially not for a normal physiological process like potty learning. I mean, my kid will use the potty when he’s good and ready, right? Apparently not.”
This is seen by most as a positive parenting tool. However, there are some that believe that reward charts have negative consequences for the child’s self esteem.
The argument is that praising a child too much, especially for normal everyday functions such as eating, using the toilet and sleeping, can cause them to rely too heavily on outside praise and approval, therefore preventing them from feeling a sense of achievement that comes from within. Parents believe that by using a reward chart, they are training the child to seek approval from others rather than carrying out a task because it feels good to them to do it. It makes a lot of sense when you think about it from a different point of view – of course we want our children to do things because they want to, not because they have their eyes on a prize. Reward charts fit in well in our culture of achieve, reach your goals, get that promotion, don’t you dare fail, but they aren’t values that I want to instil in my children. Of course we want them to be successful, but not at the expense of their happiness – their true happiness; the kind of happiness that comes from within, not from external approval.
I have to say, I was one of these parents. I’ve never gone so far as to never praise my children – I praise them plenty. However I swore to myself that I would never use a reward chart, especially not for a normal physiological process like potty learning. I mean, my kid will use the potty when he’s good and ready, right?
Well, apparently not. My oldest boy, who will be three next week, has been physically ready to potty learn for a while now. Some days he will use the potty, other days he won’t. I assumed this random potty usage would one day eventually result in consistent use of the toilet and the permanent tossing of the nappies, but I don’t think this will happen any more. He is starting to become very stubborn about using the potty, despite the fact that my encouragement is gentle. He is a very sensitive child and tends to get stuck in his comfort zone – if I buy him a new t-shirt, for example, it tends to take at least a few days before he will wear it. Shoe shopping is a nightmare because he wants the exact same shoes as before, and he has to have the right cutlery for the right meal. He likes things *just so *. I think, at this stage, he is too set in his ways to let go of the nappies without a gentle nudge in the right direction.
“Of course we want them to be successful, but not at the expense of their happiness – their true happiness; the kind of happiness that comes from within, not from external approval.”
So now I find myself preparing to make the famous sticker chart to go on our wall. My boy will be rewarded for every pee and poop on the potty with a sticker. He will also be rewarded with a sticker every time he chooses to wear big boy undies instead of a nappy (a HUGE hurdle for us at present). We have talked about it, and he is incredibly excited about sticking stickers on his chart and understands the reason why we are doing it. I’m feeling positive about how things will go.
It just shows how your views on something can change once you are in a certain situation yourself. I wouldn’t advocate reward charts usually; however I think in our situation, they will be a useful tool to help my boy climb out of his rut and get used to a new way of being.
How do you feel about reward charts? Do you advocate their use?