This month we also have pleasure in presenting our feature article below — ‘Star chart not working? This is why’ — from one of our Can Do kids Club generous supporters, Rebecca Underwood B.A (Psych), PGDip Psych. Assoc MAPS.

starWhen a child is displaying problem behaviours, whether at home or at school, the first thing we parents tend to do is create a reward chart.  This is usually in the form of a Star Chart.  When the child behaves, they get a star.

When they have a certain number of stars, they get a reward.

Sounds foolproof right?  



But why is the interest in the Start Chart only short lived?

Why does it stop working after a few weeks?

Here are five typical reasons why …

  • The reinforcer doesn’t immediately follow the behaviour

What does this mean I hear you ask?  It means the ‘thing’ you are using to reward/reinforce the behaviour, the star, must immediately follow the behaviour.  If the child displays good behaviour in the morning by getting ready for school when asked, and the star isn’t given until after school, this not only confuses the child but weakens the power of the star. The star must be awarded as soon as possible, after the positive behaviour is displayed, to be most effective.

  • The reward isn’t good enough

For a reward to be effective, it has to mean something to the child.  This is where most mums and dads go wrong.  If the reward for achieving 10 stars is an ice cream, but what the child really wants is an hour playing at their favourite park near the beach, then it will be ineffective.  It has to be something the child really wants and is willing to work hard to achieve.  How do you work out what this is?  You simply ask your child. It doesn’t have to cost the earth, so be creative.

  • Achieving the reward is too hard or too easy

When the system is too hard or too easy, the child is likely to lose interest.  If the opportunity to earn a star is only presented once per day, and they have to earn too many stars before they get the reward, most children will give up.  Likewise, if it is too easy, the child will start behaving only when it suits them.  This is because there are too many opportunities to earn stars so they can misbehave now, and be better behaved later and catch up on the stars they missed.  Kids are clever.

  • The star chart is out of sight

If the star chart is under a pile of paperwork on the kitchen bench, then everyone is likely to forget about it. It loses importance.  The star chart needs to be in full sight of the child, to remind them of what they are working towards.  Pop it on the fridge, or even on the kid’s bedroom door.

  • The kids aren’t involved

If mum, dad or the teachers are putting the star on the chart, this isn’t nearly as exciting as them doing it themselves.  You want them to feel good about achieving the star so get them involved!  Let them peel it off the sheet and stick it to the chart themselves.

Using some of the above tips to tweak your reward chart system may help to ensure positive changes are created.

Screen shot 2016-08-30 at 1.03.13 PMRebecca Underwood is Principal Psychologist and Director of Progressive Psychology. Through evidence-based practice, Rebecca is passionate about helping people making positive changes in their lives and overcome life’s varying challenges. She encourages everyone to “strive for progress, not perfection” in pursuit of happiness. Rebecca works with individuals of all ages, however has a passion for working with children.

To make an appointment to see Rebecca Underwood at either Baxter or Rosebud, or if you would like further information about the services offered by Progressive Psychology, please visit the website at

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