The trouble with sticker charts…

We live in a world based on a model of motivation of ‘if you do this, you’ll get his’. From performance related pay, bonuses, incentive schemes, to sticker charts!  The opposite is true as well in the form of ‘if you do that, you won’t get this’.  This is quite a common tactic with children, for example at school with threats of detentions or the removal of other privileges.  Imagine the following scene. Your 5 year old comes out of their room for the third time after going to bed.  There is no obvious reason as to why she is coming out, she is not hungry or thirsty, surely she is just attention seeking and ‘playing up’?  You are tired and can see the short precious time you have to do what you need or want is being eroded. How can you get her to stay in bed?  A common tactic that is used is ‘if you come out again we will not being going to the zoo tomorrow’ or threatening the removal of some other treat.

Another common use of the ‘if you do this, you’ll get his’ psychology is the use of sticker charts and other incentives.  It is used from summer reading schemes, potty training to changing an ‘unhelpful’ behaviour. In America they had a book reading scheme where the children got vouchers for pizza for each book they read.

So what is wrong with this form of motivation?  The trouble with it is that it actually doesn’t work in the long run, or for anything that requires any creativity or thinking. I think an objective of being a parent is raising children than grow in to knowing who they are, emotionally mature and free thinkers. In the long rewards/punishments can actually de-motivate people, restrict creativity, lower performance and can become addictive i.e. we become conditioned to focus on rewards and bypass any natural motivation we may have or seeking any enjoyment or satisfaction in a task.

What happened with the pizza reading scheme? The children took out the shortest books possible to get as many out as possible to get as much pizza as possible.  Did it foster a love or reading as it was intended to do?  No, it fed their love of pizza!

Some modern companies are waking up to this and even sales companies are putting staff on a full salary rather than commission based salary and are seeing an improvement in performance.

So what do we do instead?  Instead of using external motivators we all have what is called intrinsic motivation.  Look at children playing or learning something they are interested in.  They don’t need motivating.  What happens to this natural motivation to learn and understand new things in a playful way?   It gets ignored as tests, streaming and incentive schemes kick in.  You can hep children (and yourself) tap in to this intrinsic motivation instead of using incentive/threats.

Come and find out more at a free evening talk. This talk is being held in conjunction with Zelda School, a kindergarten and school with a child led approach to learning influenced by a range of educational approaches such as Steiner.

Oh and the girl that wouldn’t stay in bed?  Take a little more time to understand why she keeps getting up. Perhaps there are emotions she hasn’t processed from the day, or she hasn’t had enough focused attention from you that day.  Trust there is always a positive intent behind the behaviour.

The Trouble with Sticker Charts

When:  Thursday, 14 June 2012

Where:  The Tolmen Centre, Constantine

Time: 8.00pm – 9.30pm

Other:  Free.  Donations to the Zelda school development fund welcome.

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