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How to operate a successful “Star Chart”?

Our nanny came up with an idea today to create a sort of table for our daughter, where they would draw a sun or smiley when my daughter behaves well and a sad face otherwise. Then we (the parents) would discuss the table with our daughter, offer her some sort of reward when there are many smileys, and explain that we are upset when there are many sad faces.

Does it make sense? Are there any risks with this kind of approach?

  • @TorbenGB, the other question seems to relate to much older kids (6-8 as opposed to 2), hence the answer is not really relevant in this case.
    – Grzenio
    Jun 16, 2011 at 11:14
  • Based on your objection, I've reopened the question and added an answer. Jun 16, 2011 at 11:17
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    I never found our 2 year old to really understand these concepts, maybe yours is advanced enough to and if so that's great. I'd worry more about the child understanding what the smiley and frowny faces represent rather than just having them there.
    – MichaelF
    Jun 16, 2011 at 12:21
  • I agree with @MichaelF, though when our daughter was 18-24mos, I do think she grasped voice intonation. We rewarded her with "goood giirrl" in a very gentle/smiling tone as opposed to a firm, "No, no" for actions we didn't want. She began doing what she was supposed to do and saying "Good girl" (more like "Guh Guh") herself, which strikes me as showing that she understood she was doing the favored action. Voice tone and touch might be more effective than visual symbols?
    – Hendy
    Jun 16, 2011 at 13:55
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    @Hendy I think you're right insofar that "Good girl" works in the immediate moment and is something the nanny can use - but it's not what the question is about. It's about some kind of report or feedback over a time period. The smiley chart in question is intended for "saving up" for rewards, or for an end-of-day report from the nanny to the parents. Jun 16, 2011 at 19:15

5 Answers 5


I would have serious reservations about such a system. As TorbenGB mentioned, it might be a useful tool for you to communicate with the nanny, but young children have difficulty associating negative (or positive) reinforcement with behavior that did not immediately precede the reinforcement.

Your daughter may have a great deal of difficulty connecting discussion of smiley/frowney faces at the end of the week (or even at the end of the day) with any behavior that prompted the nanny to give the stickers (IMO I'm understating it by saying "great deal of difficulty").

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    +1 This is absolutely correct. With a 2yo, your window for getting reinforcement across is typically 1-2 minutes after the behavior. After that, it won't work, period. Additionally, reinforcing so late after behaviors (good or bad) can actually be harmful as instead of teaching that behaviors have consequences, it would likely teach the child that nanny's and parents' reactions are random and out of their control, which will have a negative impact on behavior.
    – HedgeMage
    Jun 17, 2011 at 12:54
  • A sticker at the end of the day doesn't work, but the OP appears to be suggesting that the nanny would give the smiley face right away, then the parents could discuss it at the end of the day. May 18, 2017 at 15:16

My local nursery gives the kids a sticker if they were very good that day, but even at 4 years old they can have difficulty understanding the cumulative total. ie they are very happy to get a sticker for a good day, and may understand the fact they have a lot of stickers but not tie that back to the difference between 4 good days and eight good days.

  • -1 A child of 2 can't understand "a good day". They understand what they did 2 minutes ago, but any sort of daily reward/punishment/reinforcement will appear random to them.
    – HedgeMage
    Jun 17, 2011 at 12:56
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    @HedgeMage - that was sort of my point. I was talking about how even at 4 they were just getting to grips with a good day:-)
    – Rory Alsop
    Jun 17, 2011 at 14:50

I think what you're looking for is covered here: How to operate a successful “Star Chart”? I think that topic covers the same ideas and aspects - though admittedly at two years old, your child can't actively participate in formulating the goals, but in my opinion the rest remains valid.

I'm not sure if your nanny's idea is really effective to use with a two-year-old but I can see how it can be a useful tool between the nanny and the parents.


This will sound like a cop-out but I'm a firm believer that you have to treat each kid as uniquely different. For some kids, maybe even most kids, sticker charts might not work, or might even be harmful. But then there's that one kid, for which it is the perfect solution.

Experiment, but don't push too hard, esp. with strong willed children. If they find it "fun" that is a good sign, if it seems tedious or if they get upset or confused by it, move on to some other idea. Ultimately parenting is more art than science...

We had to hospitalize my son for a week due to breathing problems when he was 4. He dreaded the needles and other painful procedures and put up an awful commotion. After a particularly bad episode the nurse suggested a sticker chart to reward him for each time they had to do something scary. My wife and I were skeptical but went along, and it worked remarkably well. He eventually even looked forward to procedures and took pride in getting his chart filled in.

We've gone on to adopt similar systems when we've hit motivational roadblocks on other behavioral or scholastic challenges. Make a reasonable deal with him, and he'll keep up his end of the bargain if you do.

But this works for him. Maybe he's a future capitalist, I don't know. He's quite competitive and loves measuring his progress at stuff. The same techniques don't work with his sister, or at least, not for the same reason. For her, she enjoys doing the task more than getting the rewards, it's the experience of doing that drives her. She loves games, and isn't quite as hung up on winning. She participates in the token systems to have the sense of inclusion, but it's fairly useless as a motivator, for her.

I can easily imagine that a different child, or a different combination of child and sibling or child and parent, would produce quite different results.

Also, there's a few different ways to do sticker or token systems, and again one approach might work better for one kid than another. Experiment and observe - keep your first "prototype" simple or even treat it as a game, and see how your child takes to it. Build and adapt.


I think the nanny's idea is basically a good one. A slightly better approach may be to reward your daughter for good behavior with smiley faces or happy stickers, and to ignore or not dwell on negative behavior. Children like attention whether negative or positive, and it is often wiser to not reinforce negative behavior.

  • -1 A child that young cannot understand something with such a temporal disconnect from the behavior.
    – HedgeMage
    Jun 17, 2011 at 12:55

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