Should I use a sticker chart to encourage my child to eat?
The short answer is: No!
Sticker charts can seem like a really good idea. You see them everywhere in the shops, after all. They’re colourful, fun, visual…they make things concrete. And children like stickers!
So why shouldn’t you use them? Here’s the long(er!) answer…
They don’t work.
Short-term, you may get five slices of carrot or all of your home-made cottage pie inside them during the period of time you use the sticker chart for. But can you imagine a child thinking Hey, I only ate that kale to get a sticker, but you know what, I flippin loved it and I’m going to eat it forever from now on! Fat chance. Once the sticker chart is over, it’s back to square one. In fact, it will have done more harm than good because…
They’re a bribe.
A sticker chart says: If you do that, you’ll get this. The child isn’t eating the food because they choose or want to. They’re eating it because they’ll get a sticker. The motivation is all external. If we want a child who is truly a happy, healthy eater, we have to create the conditions that tap into and build their own internal motivation to eat the food.
They give your child the message that eating is a chore.
Having a sticker chart for doing something tedious or tricky – like learning your times tables – would make sense. But eating food is – or should be – a pleasure! A sticker chart teaches your child that eating is just something you have to endure to get something good.
They’re just another way of putting pressure on your child to eat.
…which, if you’ve read Getting the Little Blighters to Eat, you’ll know means you’re in for trouble! A sticker chart tells your child loud and clear that you really care what they do and don’t eat, simply giving them more to resist and react against in the long term.
Sticker charts for eating…stick em’ in the bin!
Note: A paediatric dietitian will sometimes use a sticker chart in a very specialised way with a child around eating behaviour, rather than directly for eating. This is different to the general use of sticker charts by parents for eating, which is the focus of this article.