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Motivation That Sticks

How to keep a toddler's "to do" list on track is often as simple as figuring out what they value.

When our toddler learned the word "no" (which they tend to do fast) I tried to find ways to get her to do the things that we still needed her to do, like brushing teeth, taking baths and eating the occasional vegetable.

I asked other friends what their methods were and most of them centered around some kind of responsibility chart or reward system.  When I first embarked on this idea a few months ago, I felt a "true" responsibilities chart (like the kind you buy in a store with chores and magnets that correspond to the chore) might have been a little over her head. One friend who had such a chart said she would often catch her daughter moving the magnets around in any random order, thus defeating the purpose of doing the things on the chart.

I settled on stickers. Another friend made our daughter a nice laminated board with a giant Elmo face and her name so that she could put her stickers on there any time she earned one.

The board was lovely, but it was so lovely that, at first, our daughter didn't want to put any of her stickers on it. Instead, she insisted on wearing them on her pajamas every night. Which lead to a small panic every morning when some of them had lost their stick and come off in the middle of the night.

Eventually she grew to love the board and how her stickers looked on it. She was excited to pick out where they would go and as it became more of our routine every night (we pick out stickers before bed) she became more in tune to earning them.

It wasn't an overnight win, but the stickers-as-motivation seems to have gained ground in our house. I'm glad there is something that hopefully will at the very least prevent cavities. It may not get the toys put away every night, but if we achieve at least one thing on our to do list each day, that's reward enough to give me a sticker, too.

Cynthia January 24, 2012 at 07:35 PM
I like this idea but when we tried stickers as potty training rewards she would just shriek that she wanted all the stickers at once. Sigh... I will try this though and see if two months older means two months less greedy. ;-)
Cynthia F. January 25, 2012 at 05:55 PM
It's so hard to figure out how to deal with your child once they reach the toddler stage! They're not babies anymore, but their brains work so differently than older children's and adult's. You might be interested in reading about alternatives to reward systems (and also alternatives to punishments like time-outs). Here's a couple of interesting articles: http://www.alfiekohn.org/parenting/gj.htm and http://nymag.com/news/features/27840/. One of my favorite parenting websites is www.ahaparenting.com. And books like "Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles" by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka and "Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason" by Alfie Kohn are hugely helpful. Good luck!

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