Sticker Charts to Motivate Your Preschooler

A simple sticker chart can motivate your child.
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It might seem a little far-fetched to think a sticker will change your preschooler's behavior. But when implemented well, a sticker chart can be an effective way to improve your child's behavior.

Although older kids usually require a more complex reward system, a sticker alone can often provide enough positive reinforcement to motivate preschoolers to change their behavior. If your child grows bored with stickers, however, you can certainly allow your child to exchange stickers for other tangible rewards.

When to Use a Sticker Chart

Sticker charts should be used when kids need a little extra help addressing a specific behavior. Think of a behavior you want to see more often, then each time your child exhibits that behavior, offer a sticker.

For example, sticker charts are great tools to help with toilet training. Each time a child successfully uses the toilet, place a sticker on the chart.

Another behavior that responds well to a sticker chart is sleeping independently. If your child stays in his own bed all night place a sticker on his chart in the morning.

Other behaviors that respond well to sticker charts may include hygiene habits such as brushing teeth, washing hands and covering coughs and sneezes.

If your child struggles with a specific behavior such as aggression, implement a sticker chart to teach more socially appropriate alternatives. Give her a sticker each time she uses "gentle touches" or when she uses "her words instead of her hands," when she's angry.

Timing for Sticker Reinforcement

Preschoolers have short attention spans so they need frequent reinforcement to stay on track. For some kids, that may mean giving out a sticker every 10 to 15 minutes.

Since it isn’t feasible to hand out stickers every 10 minutes throughout the entire day, you can set aside a specific time each day to monitor the behavior, such as between dinner and bedtime. During that time you can monitor your child’s play with a sibling and provide a sticker in 15-minute intervals.

How to Create an Effective Sticker Chart

The more involved your child becomes in learning about the sticker chart, the more motivated he will be to earn stickers.

Allow him to decorate the chart and pick out special stickers he wants to earn. For many children, a blank piece of paper is all that is needed.

You don't necessarily need to worry about writing down the days of the weeks or times of the day. Preschoolers aren't interested in those things. Simply place a sticker on the paper each time your child earns one.

Pick one behavior to address at a time. Frame the behavior positively so your child is aware of what behavior you want to see, not what behavior you don’t want to see. Say, “Use your hands for kind touches only,” instead of “Don’t hit.” Just be sure to explain to him what “kind touches” means.

Get Your Child Motivated to Earn Stickers

Explain the sticker chart to your child in an easy to understand manner. Frame the sticker chart as a positive way to help him learn something new.

Say, “I’m going to give you a sticker on this chart every time you use the potty to help you learn to use the bathroom.” Allow your child to ask any questions and make sure your child has a clear understanding of how stickers are earned.

Sticker charts are most effective when kids earn a sticker immediately after the desired behavior. So if your child earns stickers for using the potty, give him a sticker immediately following each success.

If you provide stickers after a certain time frame, such as after 10 minutes of playing nicely, be prompt when giving the reward. You can cheer your child on throughout the 10 minutes as well by saying things such as “Great job! If you keep sharing you’ll earn a sticker in a couple of minutes.”

Celebrate each time your child earns a sticker. Provide lots of praise and make each success a big deal. When your child doesn’t earn a sticker simply remind him he can try again next time. Don’t take away stickers or use it as a punishment or he'll lose motivation fast.

Phasing out Stickers

As your child masters a new skill, slowly phase out stickers. Once she's toilet-trained or sleeping in her own bed, choose another behavior to address.

If she's no longer motivated by stickers, consider a more sophisticated reward system. A token economy system can be an effective alternative.

Although it can seem like a lot of work to use a sticker chart, it will save you time in the long run. A sticker chart will hopefully mean fewer consequences, like a time-out. So look at your child's sticker chart as a good investment and a way to teach her appropriate behavior for the future.

1 Source
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Hickey V, Flesch L, Lane A, et al. Token economy to improve adherence to activities of daily livingPediatr Blood Cancer. 2018;65(11):e27387. doi:10.1002/pbc.27387

Additional Reading

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.