Reward charts, sticker charts, traffic lights, suns, clouds….they make me want to scream. If there’s one thing I’d ask teachers to do, it is to ditch the reward chart. This behaviour modification system never worked for us. In fact, it only made things worse. My adopted child struggled and struggles with having their behaviour linked to rewards. Because this kind of reward system only results in rock-bottom self-esteem, sabotage, and why bother ‘cos I am a complete failure.
Reward charts, the bane of my life!
Our primary school operated a traffic light system to instil good behaviour.
- Green ‘cos your good as gold
- Yellow ‘cos your not quite there yet
- Red well you get the picture
But that wasn’t enough. Then they added silver and gold.
And for that, you got prizes – like a trip to the cinema.
My reaction……… Nooooooo!…..Why don’t you just tell my kid they are a total failure and be done with it!
My child struggled to leave the red zone, getting to amber was tough, green impossible, silver and gold, well that was just unattainable. So why bother, let’s just sit in the red zone, and carry on misbhahvin’ cos that’s what you expect of me.
As you can see I am no fan of reward charts. And here’s seven damn fine reasons why they just don’t work for us!
7 reasons why you need to ditch those reward and sticker charts
1. These are behaviour modification systems they don’t go to the heart of why a child can’t seem to behave. My kid isn’t naughty, but on the surface, the presenting behaviour may seem that way. But the fact is their early life trauma, neglect and abuse come through as anxiety, fear, dysregulation – and gets translated as behaviour. Check out this article about how trauma plays out in the classroom.
2. It’s a temporary measure. That sticker might get you through the day but it doesn’t get to the root cause and there is no long-lasting change. As Sarah Ockwell-Smith notes sticker charts are so popular with those TV experts because they offer a quick fix, a seemingly miraculous turnaround in behaviour – and it makes for great TV!
3. Welcome to the reward economy. This brilliant piece in The Atlantic points out, kids learn to trade in ‘good behaviour’ for a reward. Behaviour becomes a transaction, a commodity. Take away the reward, no good behaviour!
4. When your kid is lurking around on the cloud or in the red zone, their self-esteem takes a real bashing. It’s a major effort to make it to the sunny side and especially when you’re not feeling all that sunny inside. Reward charts can really damage a child’s self-esteem.
5. Sabotage. I know this all too well. Treats and rewards seem unattainable. Actually, it is attainable but my child feels like they don’t deserve it. Therefore the trajectory is to compound that feeling, start acting up, this spirals downwards towards a meltdown or unacceptable behaviour and the reward or treat gets taken away. Ha! Told you I was bad!
6. Reward charts are all about control. In this article, Alyson Schafer talks about how the reward chart reinforces to the child that the power is with the person dishing out the prizes. The reward chart is all about subordination this is not the basis for a healthy relationship.
7. And back to Sarah Ockwell-Smith, who writes brilliantly that with the reward chart, the child is not learning “right from wrong” or becoming a better person. Instead they learn to comply with their behaviour whilst the reward is on offer, but remove the reward and you lose compliance.
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