While it may be hard for you, a full-grown adult, to understand the motivation of a reward chart, to a toddler, getting a shiny gold sticker for a job well done is like winning the lottery! Star charts (aka sticker charts or reward charts) can provide the just-right amount of positive reinforcement to help a toddler, preschooler, or big kid change a behavior or start a new habit.

While some poo-poo this practice as thinly veiled bribery, child development expert and pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp, author of the bestselling book The Happiest Toddler on the Block is confident that, when done right, reward charts are a valuable tool for improving cooperation! “A star chart is a great way to use a little reward to feed an older toddler’s meter,” explains Dr. Karp.

Here’s everything you need to know about creating a sticker or star chart for your kiddo.

What’s a reward chart?

A reward chart can sometimes be called a star chart, a sticker chart, or a behavior chart. No matter what your family calls a reward chart, they are all designed to do the same thing: guide children toward a positive behavior with small rewards. 

Star charts are one type of what Dr. Karp calls a “time-in”—a tiny bit of encouragement for a well-behaving child (the opposite of a time-out!). “As any experienced parent or teacher will tell you, a steady stream of time-ins is a much more effective way of encouraging cooperation than a steady stream of time-outs,” Dr. Karp explains.

Each time your tot achieves whatever task or behavior you’re tracking, they receive a star or a sticker. Usually, after a child gets a set number of stickers, they receive a small, predetermined reward.

When to Use a Reward Chart

Star charts work best with toddlers who are 2 years old and up—the logistics of a reward chart can be a little too complicated for younger toddlers. But there are all sorts of ways you may use a sticker chart, including:

  • Encouraging a positive behavior, like listening, sharing, and following instructions

  • Reinforcing routines and habits, such as brushing teeth, using the potty, or cleaning up toys

  • Discouraging a challenging behavior, such as biting, hitting, or whining

How to Use a Star Chart

Here’s how Dr. Karp recommends using a sticker chart with toddlers and preschoolers:

  • Pick three behaviors to focus on. Select two behaviors or habits your child is already good at (for example, brushing teeth)…and one that’s either brand-new to them or one that needs improvement (such as putting toys away before bed).

  • Choose specific goals. Refrain from using vague language like “be polite” or “clean your room.” Instead, set forth super-clear goals, like, “say thank you” or “place toys in the bin after playing.”

  • Explain the plan. Share with your tot the many things that they’re doing well, then mention you’ve got an exciting plan for helping them do even better! Here’s where you spell out the three things you want your child to do every day—and that they’ll be getting a sticker each time they complete the task. Finally, ask your child what their special little reward should be for every, say, 10 stars they earn. (Keep it simple, like scented stickers, a trip to the library, a dollar store car, or a playdate with a special friend.)

  • Create a two-week chart. If you are making your own behavior chart, let your little one decorate it and choose the stickers. This’ll build excitement and encourage success! Redo the sticker chart every two weeks, adding new behaviors to be rewarded as your child does better and better with their initial goals.

  • Put your tot on sticker duty. When your child meets a goal, let them put the star or sticker on their reward chart. (Feel free to offer bonus stars for special cooperation.)

  • Display your child’s star chart. Hang the reward chart where everyone can see it. “Your child will get a dose of ‘visual praise’ every time they walk by and see their success,” says Dr. Karp.

  • Gossip about your child’s success! Don’t leave the praise for the sticker chart alone! Praise your toddler using “gossip,” too. That means, say positive things about your child’s new habits so they can overhear. For instance, when your tot is in earshot, in a loud whisper say to your partner, a stuffed toy, or whomever: “Noah got a big gold sticker for cleaning up his toys today. I’m so impressed!” children are more likely to believe something they overhear—and continue doing the praised behavior! (Learn more about gossiping.)

How to Make a Star Chart

Making a reward chart doesn’t require an MFA! All you need is paper, markers, and some stickers! But, of course, you can level-up your child’s reward chart however you see fit. Here are some fun reward chart ideas to get your juices flowing:

Monster Truck Reward Chart

Photo & to purchase: The Grateful Nest

If you’ve got a vehicle-lover in your home, this super-affordable printable reward chart from Etsy could be just the ticket to improved behavior and better habits! Just be mindful that it’s four stickers for a prize.

Magnetic Star Chart

Photo & to purchase: Quokka Wooden Toys

For a reusable reward chart with staying power, you can opt for a pre-made magnet behavior chart. This one, pictured, comes with 48 task magnets and 49 star magnets—plus a storage bag and dry erase marker. If the tasks, habits, and chores aren’t exactly what you’re looking for, you can always write your preferred to-dos on a piece of masking tape and stick it over an existing magnet. Don’t forget to hang your chart high enough so no magnets wind up in your little one’s mouth!

Unicorn Star Chart

Photo & to purchase: Amazon

This magnetic behavior reward chart for kids features unicorns for extra magical motivation! Unlike the magnetic star chart above, this one has a magnet on the back, so that you can easily stick it on your refrigerator. Here, you get a 26-page pad where you can customize your toddler’s chores, tasks, and behaviors. You also receive nearly 2,000 star stickers and an additional 49 unicorn incentive stickers that add to the tracking fun!

Digital Download Reward Chart

Picture and to purchase: My Lama Moon

This easy-peasy star chart comes as an inexpensive digital download. There are nine sizes to choose from so you can decide which works best for your needs…and then print a fresh reward chart each time you need it! You can use a pen to write the activity or behavior you are rewarding inside the circles.

Magnet Reward Chart

Picture & idea: Organized Chaos

While the reward chart pictured is all about doing well in school, you can adapt this concept in any way that works for your family. To make it, all you need is a magnetic whiteboard, fun magnets (like the vehicles above), and either dry or wet erase markers.

“Great Job” Jar Reward Chart

Photo and to purchase: Playventive Games

This simple printable makes tracking your child’s good deeds simple as can be! Choose 50, 30, or 10 “marbles” for your child’s Great Job jar, order, and print. If you’d rather not use traditional stickers, you can slide this star chart in a laminated sleeve and color in the marbles in with a dry erase marker. If you’re following Dr. Karp’s three behaviors method, either write the three tasks on the side of the printout or print three jars.

Characters Star Chart

Pictures & to purchase: Happy Pineapple Reward

Sometimes a parent needs the help of Spiderman, Bluey, or a gaggle of Disney Princesses to encourage their kiddo to stick with a reward chart…and that A-okay! This Etsy shop is filled with sticker chart pintables featuring all the above, plus Super Mario, Pokémon, Baby Shark, Gabby’s Dollhouse, and so many more. That means you can easily find your kiddo’s favorite character.

Dinosaur Reward Chart

Picture & to purchase: Paper Gift Studio

Tykes in their T-rex era will roar for this customizable dino-themed sticker chart! This fill-in-the-blanks 40-page star chart notebook can easily work with your family no matter what chores, tasks, or behaviors you have in mind.

A 3D Star Chart

Picture & to purchase: Honey Suckle Porch

For a new twist on a classic rewards chart, consider this bestselling Etsy star chart. Here, you get a jar-shaped container (with free, optional back magnets) that holds up to 27 reward stars. You can personalize the jar and select from six star colors—each of which you could assign to a different  behavior or task.  


More on Encouraging Positive Toddler Behavior:

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.