BLOG: Using star charts and reward systems as techniques to promote positive behaviour

Last month we explored routines and how they can help parents and children get back into rhythm after a long break, or help create a new way of doing things for younger children. Having survived la rentree, and getting used to getting everyone out on chilly mornings, we are now in the swing of juggling extra-curricular activities with homework – yippee! Even if you have younger children and you are not quite at this stage there are plenty of ways in which we could all do with a little positive encouragement – mum and dad included.

Social Learning Theory by Albert Bandura (1977) suggests that most behaviour is learned behaviour. Basically we do things because we copy the people around us and because we want something. The people we usually copy are our parents then later our peers. The ‘something’ is often attention. Therefore the behaviours we give attention to are reinforced (encouraged) regardless of whether we consider them good or bad. Simply put if we want our children to behave positively we need to model and give attention to those behaviours ourselves. An effective way of doing this is by using reward (star) charts.

Many parents will be familiar with using charts for specific goals or tasks like toilet training or homework. They can also be used to reinforce other positive behaviours like being polite, helpful, kind & caring, appreciating others, listening to others and tidying up after yourself or even just trying something new. These may seem quite general behavioural goals but they are only meant to act as column headings for your chart. The importance is to be specific when giving attention to the desired behavior e.g. “I’d like to give you a star for helping your sister today, that was very kind and caring of you”.

Why not have a chart for all the family – now this may feel a little a bit silly at first but as you will guess by now I’m an advocate of putting yourself in your children’s shoes, and what could be more positively reinforcing than mum and dad openly appreciating each other. We have a family meeting every week to give out stars, which then add up to little but fun rewards for every member of the family. Rewards do not need to be expensive often planned one to one time with a child doing their favorite hobby is an enjoyable goal you can share – even if you’ll have to rescue Princess Peach for the 100th time! The internet is full of ready made reward charts and even a new app has been developed for older kids. Why not explore or even better make your own. Get your children to come up with ideas and decorate it.

Here are a couple of guidelines:-

  • Be positive – you are trying to reinforce behavior you want.
  • Be specific when giving out stars – and for individual goals appropriate to age.
  • Agree rewards in advance – these can include planned quality time or ‘date nights’ with older kids. Don’t forget mum & dad.
  • For younger children give out stars immediately or have sticky stars in your bag to give out as a reminder. They tend to forget and you will too!
  • Review your chart with the individual or family after a couple of months.
  • Give yourself a star*
Lynn Frank is a coordinator for Passage, the Parent Support Group for the English-speaking community in Luxembourg. If you would like to know more about our work contact us at