So, I have a friend. Her name is Wit’s End. She tends to spend a lot of time at my house and to be perfectly honest, she is starting to really annoy me.
Without going into the gory details, my three-year-old son is the joy of my life, but he’s also why I’m at my wit’s end. He is your average three-year-old: busy, mischievous, opinionated, stubborn, and loves to laugh, but some days I have no idea how to be his mommy. (Can’t you just see the wheels turning in his head in this picture?! “Hmmm, how can I make this photoshoot even more difficult for Mommy??”)
My husband and I were struggling to figure out how to correctly discipline and teach him, when we finally came across a book called The Power of Positive Parenting by Doug Latham. For us, it was the answer we were looking for and we are seeing positive results. (Do you hear the angels singing?!) Here’s the basic philosophy Latham teaches: reinforce any and all positive behavior and ignore inconsequential behavior – things like tantrums or age-typical attitude. (Side note: inconsequential behavior cannot be ignored – that includes verbal and physical assaults that could hurt others, be damaging to property or might be damaging to the child himself.)
One tool Latham teaches to reinforce positive behavior is something like toddler sticker charts. I put the sticker chart to the test with my three-year-old because he’s obsessed with stickers, as you can see from our car window. I started with choosing four behaviors we wanted to work on: listening and obeying, not hitting, sharing, and not taking toys away. In the beginning he got a sticker as often as I could “catch” him doing these things – anytime I saw him not taking a toy away from his little sister, not hitting her, listening and obeying when I asked him to do something, sharing a toy, being gentle with her, he got a sticker. But when he did hit, take a toy away, or refuse to share, I didn’t bribe him with a sticker or threaten to take a sticker away, I simply (or not so simply – this is the hardest part for me!) ignored his actions (so he doesn’t get attention from me for doing something bad), stopped him, and calmly and kindly redirected him to something else: a different toy, helping me in the kitchen or on a project, or if needed, redirecting him to another room to play to completely remove him from the temptation of hitting or taking toys away, etc.
Each of the four things he was working on had a reward, of his choice. He wanted to go swimming at the local recreation center with his daddy, get an ice cream cone with mommy, and get a new toy at the store (Savers or Deseret Industries is great for this type of thing!). I added the last reward: to go to the dollar theater to see a movie – we haven’t taken him yet so I thought his little mind would be blown with excitement. So far, he has been swimming with his daddy and has picked out a new toy. He’s three stickers away from an ice cream cone with mom, and five stickers away from the dollar movie. I’ve seen awesome changes! In the beginning I was surprised that stickers and a simple thing like an ice cream cone or new toy would motivate him as much as it did – but you know what I’ve noticed even more that is motivating him? The positive interactions he and I are having! Instead of getting angry at him for stealing a toy from his sister, I’m ignoring it and redirecting him to something else. It’s been a few days since he stole a toy from his sister because he just doesn’t get a reaction from me anymore. It’s hard work and it takes a ridiculous amount of patience and self-control on my part, but it’s working, and the positive feeling in our home is so worth it.
Here is the sticker chart in its current state: actions we’re working on on the left, stickers in the middle, and reward on the right.
On my first draft of this sticker chart I wrote out what he was working and the reward he was going to get, but I noticed it was not working for him. He doesn’t know how to read, so why would that be motivating for him?! So, I put together a new draft with pictures so he could visualize what it was he was working on and what he was working toward. Bingo! I also renamed the chart “Happy Chart” because I wanted to try and teach him this wasn’t about getting stickers or presents, it was about everyone being happier in our family!
A couple tips: take your little one to the store and let him/her pick out stickers they love – extra motivation! Also, when they earn a sticker, let them choose the sticker they want to put on the chart and allow them to put it on the chart by themselves. I noticed my little boy feeling almost a sense of pride and accomplishment when he earned a sticker and got to put it on the chart himself. And when you tell them they earned a sticker, stop whatever you’re doing and go to the sticker chart! Don’t delay it or the celebration will be lost.
Free Toddler Sticker Charts (“Happy Chart”)
Here is a blank sticker chart download where you can draw in the pictures of the actions they’re working on and the rewards they’re working toward: