Using reward charts to help children stop thumb sucking is a great idea. As a parent, I have on many occasions used a sticker chart to motivate or train up a child. Admittedly the charts do not always work. All children are different and their needs vary. However, I have found that sticker charts are generally very effective when tailored to the individual child.

How do reward charts work?

The theory behind a sticker chart is that most children will attempt difficult or challenging tasks when a reward is available. Consider the child who is reluctant to wake up on a school day. Strangely even the most slothful child can rise with the sun on a Saturday morning.  Having realized the weekend promises fun and adventure, the child determines not to miss out on even an hour of that reward.  Double maths does not hold the same appeal.

Why do we need reward charts?

Of course, there is no need for reward charts in the ideal world.  In that world, every child joyfully and willingly completes their chores on time. Children master skills and milestones as expected by childcare experts and poor behavior is a rarity. Using reward charts to help children stop thumb sucking is unheard of.

Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world. While some children pick up life and social skills with relative ease, others struggle. For example, one sibling is toilet trained at eighteen months, the other at two and a half.  All children develop at their own pace and none read the articles written by the childcare experts.

Children develop at different stages

My own children are a great example of this truth. Astoundingly, one of our sons read fluently at just four years of age. My youngest child, however, is just grasping the skill at six. Unlike her brother, she finds phonics painfully difficult to understand. Her skills are more practical. She can make a bed with all the perfection of a housekeeper. It is as much as her brother can do to get the duvet on the bed.

When to give a sticker

Clearly then, we do not need to issue each child with a sticker for every skill or behavior. A child who quickly learns to tie their laces does not need a sticker each time they demonstrate that skill. But, their sibling who struggles would benefit from the reward. Whether they be physical goals or social, the goals on a reward chart need to be targeted at the individual child.

Common targetted behaviors parents put on the sticker chart include going to bed on time, not throwing tantrums and of course, not thumb sucking.

How about a little healthy competition?

In my opinion, it is wise not to turn the reward chart into a competition between siblings. We tried it once and an ugly sibling war broke out. No one needs mutiny in the ranks of a harmonious home. We found that our child who mastered skills quickly soon began to gloat over his sisters who did not. This, in turn, damaged their self-confidence and caused them to resent their brother. Rather than cheering one another on, they instead started taking every opportunity to sabotage one another’s efforts. It wasn’t pretty.

Children learn about acceptable and unacceptable behaviors based on the consequences of that behavior. Children are more likely to continue with behaviors that offer a positive reward. We all like to be acknowledged when we master something new. No one likes to be reminded that they did not do so well. My daughters especially did not like to be reminded by their older brother.

Bad behavior and the reward chart

Personally, I do not mark bad behavior on the reward chart.  The goal is not to keep a record of wrongs. The reward chart aims to keep a record of rights.

We learned early on to handle discipline separately. I cannot give professional advice but like other mothers, I can briefly share from my own experience. I find it best to discipline in three stages.

1) First I explain to the child what it was they did wrong. I usually ask the child to repeat the problem back to me too. This lets me know the child understands.

2) I set a reasonable punishment for the child. Punishment should never be cruel or abusive. In our home, we find time outs, early bedtimes and the loss of outings to be very effective. Many families prefer the loss of technology time. However, as our children rarely use technology this is not an option for us. 

3) Having completed the punishment, I expect an apology from the child. At which point we hug. Children need to know they are loved unconditionally.

At this point, the matter closes. Displaying a failing on the wall would only lead to humiliation and embarrassment for the child. I see no benefit in having every visitor to our home, made aware of my child’s wrongdoing. It is just as important for children to learn about forgiveness as it is for them to learn correct behavior.

Reward chart do’s and don’ts

  • It must be clear to the child what behaviors you expect them to change. I avoid including too many. You don’t want to overwhelm your child or lower their self-esteem. Stick to two or three. You can always make a new chart on the completion of this one.
  • Your child should receive one sticker every time they succeed in the required task. Do this until the chart is complete.
  • Exchange the full chart for the reward.
  • Once the child has gained their reward for that particular behavior, it is usually ok to move on to a different goal.

About the rewards

Rewards are as personal as the child and their goal chart. They should also be in keeping with the task being achieved. My younger children are avid readers who delight in receiving new books but my older children preferred treats such as a trip out or a game. The reward has to be desirable to the child but does not need to be costly. In most cases, it is better not to offer expensive rewards. You do not want a child who will only behave if they get the latest expensive gadget. 

We find that picnics, movie nights at home and family games afternoons are also welcome rewards.

Using reward charts to help children stop thumb sucking

When it comes to thumb sucking, I found that some of my children needed smaller goals on their chart. It was too much for them to simply not thumb suck all day. This is because thumb sucking is an addiction. Learning to make a bed is not. Forcing a child to go ‘cold turkey’ can lead to secretive thumb sucking instead.

Breaking the goal down allowed my child to see progress being made. This gave their confidence a boost. We used targets such as not thumb sucking during their bedtime story, not sucking while watching television and not thumb sucking when in the car.

I found it easier to set goals for day time activities. This meant I could monitor my children. It proved impractical at first, to offer a reward for not sucking overnight. As the mother of eight, I did not have the energy to sacrifice my own sleep to sit watch by their beds. My clever children were quick to realize this and would fervently deny having sucked. They knew I could not prove otherwise.

Did the goal charts work for our thumb-sucking children?

Whilst none of my thumbs sucking children gave up their habit using goal charts alone, the charts did complement their use of our thumb guards. My children needed to wear thumb guards in order to achieve the goals. However, as mentioned previously, this is because thumb sucking is often an addiction. We love goal charts. Our children do too. As such we do recommend their use with our products.

Are you looking for a reward chart for your child?

Why not take a look at this fabulous magnetic chart by Doris & Fred. These gorgeous charts are made to the customer’s requirements (lots of options to design the chart you need) and they are re-usable. Doris & Fred are a friendly, U.K based business. However, they do ship to other countries. Their website is filled with wonderful and practical products. They are well worth a visit.

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