First, I sat down to write an intervention plan for my 3 years old child. My major goals were to have my son eat his meals by himself in a timely manner (within 20-30 minutes) and to fall asleep on his own. Sleeping in his bed all night and being potty trained were also on my list of goals but I knew these were likely beyond our reach at this point. I would put them on his sticker chart but if we didn't achieve them I wouldn't sweat over it. Next, I had to decide how I was going to individualize my sticker chart. The sticker chart needed to have positive reinforcement woven throughout. In order to accomplish this I decided he would not only get stickers for the major goals but also for things I knew he could do easily. This way my son wouldn't feel like I was setting him up for an impossible task. Those goals we could decide together later on. I also decided the sixth sticker would be an extra big and special sticker. In order to get his toy reward, I would start with needing 2 completed lines and work up to needing a completed page. My son was very interested in cars so I chose to use Matchbox cars as his big reward. In creating a sticker chart I was concerned about my son always expecting a reward for doing expected behaviours. As such, I also wrote in his intervention plan the need to directly emphasize how proud he was of himself when he accomplished these goals and how he was able to contribute to helping the home run smoothly. Ultimately, I wanted him to have an intrinsic motivation to do these things.
Once my plan was in place, I went into preparation mode by creating the basic sticker chart and buying the package of cars. Next, I had to get my son involved. Involving my son at this point would give him a sense of control and responsibility. It would also allow me to let him know how the sticker chart would work. I chose a Saturday morning because he would be most alert and we would have time later in the day to go shopping for stickers. When we sat down I showed my son the basic sticker chart and showed him he would be earning stickers to receive cars. I asked him what he thought he could do to earn stickers and threw out some suggestions in the form of "Would you like to earn a sticker for cleaning up your toys or putting away folded socks?". As we chose activities he could earn stickers for I made sure to add my major goals. Once we had chosen the activities, he chose a picture for each of them from the couple options I gave him and we printed it out. Having a picture for each activity gave both of us the needed visual reminder. We then posted the chart and the activities page right above his bed and placed a container to put under his bed for the stickers and cars. On a shopping trip later in the day my son chose the stickers he wanted to use.
Shortly after we got home from buying the stickers, I suggested we clean up some toys. This reinforced the expectations and allowed for immediate practice. After cleaning up the toys he chose and placed the sticker. I showed him how much closer he was to the big sticker and receiving a toy car. I also told him how good it must feel to accomplish something on his own and how helpful it was that I didn't have to step on any toys.
We were off! This sticker chart worked for my son because...
1) It was appropriate for his developmental age and his emotional capacity. I wasn't asking him to fold all his clothes and put them away. I was asking for him to fold bath towels with help. It would have been reasonable to ask him to sleep the whole night in his own bed but I knew asking him to fall asleep by himself was already going to be a challenge.
2) It was planned and prepared from the start. When we started, we weren't scrambling for any pieces to make it work. My planning meant I was ultimately in control of what was happening.
3) I delegated responsibility and choice to my son. When the child has a vested interest in the stiuation there is likely to be more motivation and follow through.
4) It was used consistently. Placing it in a well trafficed and visible space gave us a constant reminder to come back to it. Sometimes it meant I had to stop what I was doing but the end result was worth it.
"Use a sticker chart" is often thrown out as a magic solution, especially for preschoolers. It isn't a magic solution because changing behaviour for a child, special needs or not, requires planning, effort and consistency.