By Emma-Louise Hodson, experienced founder of Horizon Nannies
Short answer, because we’re parents and don’t get a minute to ourselves: Yes, behaviour reward charts can be in the short term but they aren’t an effective tool in changing behaviour permanently.
Long answer: Star charts can really help with a particular goal, like practicing the piano for ten minutes every night for a week will earn you a trip to the cinema. It can work because it’s short and sweet, and it depends how much the carrot being dangled is worth to the child. Oftentimes, children begin to wane in their motivation because children live in the here and now, even more than adults do. Just like when we start off with good intentions for our new year’s resolutions, we often don’t keep it up, because the prize of being healthier or lighter in four months’ time, isn’t as appealing as having a piece of cake RIGHT NOW. If we can’t even control ourselves when we’re the ones with a supposedly fully- developed prefrontal cortex, how can we expect children to maintain the enthusiasm for chores over a long period of time?
Something to consider, is that you’re essentially making your children ‘work’. I’m not for one minute saying that children shouldn’t chip in with the housework when they’re old enough, or tidy away their toys etc., especially if they’re earning their pocket money or privileges. What I am saying, is that if you want them to do these things as part of their daily life, you need to make them want to do it, as opposed to having to do it. This is how to instil behaviours and habits that stick long-term. You need to make them want to practice the behaviour because they want to, not because they’re getting something out of it. Just think about your job- if you weren’t paid, would you continue to do it? Whichever your answer, it will come down to doing it because you want to do it (intrinsic) or because you have to (extrinsic). I would hope that we teach our children to help around the house/ pay attention to their studies/ share with others if they’re very young, because they want to be included in society and realise how their actions affect others, not because they are wondering what’s in it for them at the end of the week.
Following on from the last point. What then happens when you take away the reward? Are you going to continue to reward your child for years after they’ve learnt to go to the toilet? No. So then their reason for changing their behaviour has now been removed, they will in all likelihood, stop. Just like if you turned up to work and your boss told you that you’re no longer being paid to work. You’d leave… unless you were intrinsically motivated to do that job; maybe you worked in a care home and wanted to continue volunteering, or perhaps you were passionate about coaching football to children and would just find another way to earn your money. This is the difference, and this is what we want to teach our children. How we do that is verbal praise, leading by example and making them feel good about themselves for joining in or being helpful.
So, there we go. If you want something done quickly and it’s a one- off, try a star chart, it may work for you and your children, but don’t expect any long-term success.
Emma-Louise set up Horizon Nannies as a nanny agency who want to do things a little differently. With years of experience in the nanny industry, they know that there are a lot of things that could be done differently and more easily. They’re here to make everything go smoothly, whether you’re a family looking for your first nanny, or a top-notch nanny looking for your next career progression. Being on your side impacts their decision to be an advocate for both nannies and families. Horizon Nannies cover London and surrounds as well as Europe and Asia.