Wednesday, September 13, 2017

What's Hap-pinning Wednesday: Bedtime Sticker Chart-ing

After I posted a picture over the weekend of Walker's new toy he picked out thanks to our bedtime sticker chart reward system, I got a ton of direct messages from you guys asking me to explain a bit more about it: how it works, what we do, etc. And so since I thought it might help someone else out there, too, I wanted to share about it here. 

But first, a little background: 

Walker was always a great sleeper. We did BabyWise with him beginning around 2.5 months and he slept through the night (from 7 p.m. - 7 a.m.) until he hit about 2.5 years old. I'm not sure if it was simply his age, or perhaps the big change of having a new baby in the house, or just simply a bit of both, but his sleep began to be awful. And when I say "awful," I mean things that were keeping everyone in our house up at all hours of the night, something we had never experienced in our household before: throwing epic tantrums after we laid him down at night; yelling/screaming/kicking his bedroom door; trying to find any excuse to get in our bed in the middle of the night {"I can't know how to sleep!"}; not going to sleep until well past his bedtime and waking up around 4-5 a.m. wandering the house...and the list goes on. 

I had had enough. I was exhausting having a young baby in the house, a toddler in the house {and not to mention an exhausted toddler} and my husband travels for business so I was dealing with this a lot of the time on my own. So I knew something had to be done and soon, so Brandon and I started a full bedtime process, including a bedtime sticker chart. We talked with our pediatrician to get some ideas {and were comforted in knowing from her that a sleep regression begins around 2-2.5 years old due to newfound freedoms} and just went for it one night. 

Here's what we did: 

1. We started all of this on a weekend, and on a weekend in which Brandon was home and not traveling for work. That way, if we were up at all hours of the night, Brandon didn't have to go to work exhausted and I wasn't stuck at home exhausted myself with an equally as exhausted toddler. 

2. We purchased an OK! to Wake Toddler Clock and set the awake time at 7 a.m., meaning the time he can come out of his room in the morning. We do make exceptions for needing to go to the bathroom since he's nighttime potty trained now {ALL THE PRAISE HANDS FOR ONLY ONE KID IN DIAPERS!}, if he's sick, or there are extenuating circumstances {e.g. a loud rainstorm, etc.} 

Note: We also have blackout curtains, a nightlight, and a sound machine in Walker's room. 

3. We made a sticker chart, a sticker chart reward system, and set the rules. 
I went as cheap as possible and made ours with a piece of construction paper and a Sharpie marker and purchased stickers from The Dollar Tree, but you could get fancy and purchase a pre-made sticker chart like this one if you wanted to. 

Our sticker chart rules are the following: our sticker chart is on a weekly (7 days) basis. Walker gets one sticker each morning if he stays in his bed until his clock turns green in the morning (save for potty trips), doesn't cry/yell/scream after Mommy and Daddy leave the room and doesn't come get into our bed in the middle of the night. If he follows the rules, he gets a sticker on his chart in the morning, in addition to a delicious breakfast of pancakes, eggs, fruit and chocolate milk. Breakfast, we found, is his currency! If he doesn't follow the rules (meaning no sticker), he gets his least favorite breakfast of toast with jam, a fruit and milk. Trust me when I say that this child is motivated by pancakes and stickers! 

At the end of the seven days, if Walker has five (or six) stickers on his chart, he gets to go get ice cream. If he has seven stickers on his chart, he gets to pick out a toy ($20 or less) at Toys 'R' Us. If he has less than five, he gets nothing. These don't have to be your exact parameters; do what works best for your child, your family, and your family's budget! 

This is our sticker chart in all its cheap glory hanging on the side of our fridge: 

4. We let "The Rules" be the bad guy. 
After reading "Parenting with Love and Logic," I was just floored and kept saying, "Why didn't I think of this?!" That book introduced me to "The Rules." Basically, the rules are the "bad guy," not you. For example: If Walker doesn't get a sticker on his sticker chart and is crying about it, I calmly say, "Walker, I'm so sorry you didn't follow the rules and therefore didn't get a sticker on your chart. I really wanted you to get a sticker this morning, but The Rules say I can't do that. So, we'll follow the rules tonight and try again tomorrow." This has helped us tremendously, because I felt like I was constantly getting upset with him and telling him how I felt, how him not sleeping made me tired, etc. And he couldn't have cared less. Before he goes to bed every night, we repeat his bedtime rules as a reminder. 

5. We began and were consistent. It wasn't sunshine and roses the first week, or the second. Heck, even the third. But after about a month of consistency, Walker began to catch on. Now, it's seriously a game to him! He will follow the rules and will come out as soon as his clock turns green, carrying that darn thing in his hand and saying, "I did it! My clock is green! I get a sticker on my chart!" And we go and put a sticker on his chart first thing, and then count them each day. Yesterday morning I said, "Walker! Great job! How many stickers do you have?" [We counted, and he replied, "THREE!"] And so I said, "Three! Great job! How many do you need to get an ice cream?" ["TWO!"] "And how many until you can pick out a toy?" ["FOUR!"] It turns into a little math game, even if his math isn't always right. ;) 

A few things that helped us along the way included:

+ I get up before the boys do, have my coffee, have checked my email/social media/etc. and have breakfast waiting for them on the table by the time Walker comes in bearing his clock in hand. That way, I'm awake and ready to tackle them before they're up in the morning, and I don't have to deal with any fussing over having to wait for breakfast to be made/comments about not wanting what I'm making/etc. This has been a game changer for me...even if it's just me waking up a mere 10 minutes before they get up, I feel like I have a few moments of silence to wake up, sip my coffee and face the world before two rambunctious boys come in the kitchen. 

+ I don't bring up the sticker chart all day, every day. I'm so guilty of this with behavior sometimes and I have to constantly remind myself to not do it. For example, Walker wouldn't get a sticker in the morning because he didn't follow the rules. He would be fussy around 12:30 p.m. and I would say, "Well, if you didn't get up so early, you wouldn't be fussy right now. Let's get a sticker tomorrow, okay?" I mean, I worked in an office environment before and I would get so mad at my boss for bringing up something I did wrong a day before again the next day! So, I try to not do that with Walker. If he doesn't get a sticker, I tell him as soon as he wakes up that he didn't get one because he didn't follow the rules and that he needs to try again tomorrow. And that's that. I don't mention it for the rest of the day. 

+ Understanding his currency. Walker is totally motivated by stickers and rewards. Some kids just won't be. Find what their "currency" is: stickers on the chart for the week and the reward is one-on-one time with Mom (or Dad!); stickers on the chart for the week and the reward is doing your favorite craft Mom doesn't like dealing with because it's messy (for me, that's painting!); and the list goes on. It took me a while to figure out Walker's currency, but once I figured it out, we could begin. 

+ Keeping bedtime consistent. We have the exact same bedtime routine every. single. night., despite if we're traveling or at home, or if we have a babysitter. Our pediatrician recommended this and it has truly helped. She also recommended ending with the same book every night. So, Walker gets to pick one book and I get to pick the other book (which is always the same and we always end on that one). My child is truly his mother's child and thrives off of a routine and order, and this consistency has been a game changer for him. 

+ Limit screen time, especially before bed. Walker loves my iPad...until I take it away. Then it becomes a knock-down, drag-out, epic battle of the wills. I got really used to giving it to him to play on after bath while I put Knox down for bedtime while Brandon was traveling, and it took longer just to pry it out of his screaming self's hands and calm him down than the bedtime routine took, and he was really, really sassy after spending time on it. And I just wasn't having that anymore. So, I changed the passcode on it, hid it and he is only allowed on it when we travel -- and only to watch movies. Of course, you don't have to do such a drastic measure as I did, but I found that this really helped -- especially before bedtime. After reading this article, I knew why he was acting the way he was. Of course, Walker still can watch TV or a movie on the TV, but I do limit that, too. I just noticed a difference in my child and yes, it's more work for me, but I know it's the best for Walker in the long run. Knox has yet to touch my iPad, but if it's any indication the way he is when I take my iPhone away that he's managed to scoop up if I leave it somewhere in reach...then he's not seeing it for a while, either. Please know I'm not trying to be "Holier than Thou" about this -- TRUST ME. I just have experienced firsthand the affects of screen time -- especially via handheld devices -- on my child and I didn't like what I saw. If the iPad works for you and your family, by all means, love it and use it! :)

+ Keeping him in his room. Here's the deal: I love sleep, and I know my kids need it -- and a lot of it. I talked about this in detail in this post. That said, there is absolutely no reason Walker needs to be wandering around my house when he decides to wake up at 4:45 a.m. Or 5 a.m. Or heck, even 6 a.m.! Other people in the house are trying to sleep; it's dangerous for him to be wandering around the house at that hour; and he needs to at least try to, as we say, "Roll over and go back to sleep." So, we keep him in his room until his clock turns green at 7 a.m. I don't care if he is awake at 4:45 long as he's in his room. He has the option of rolling over and going back to sleep, "reading" quietly, playing with non-noise toys {e.g. LEGOs} quietly, etc. until his clock turns green. And then he can come out and start his day. This has really been helpful for us and has allowed Knox {and me!} to get a few minutes -- or in some cases, hours -- more sleep. 

I hope this was helpful to someone out there. It was a lot of text to read through, I know, but if you have any questions, I'm happy to answer them! 

Linking up with Jessi and Jenn 


  1. This is such a great solution...we are on day 4 and guess who has yet to earn a dang sticker! I've tried it all, I am at a loss and so frustrated. We are going to keep at it though and hope it clicks soon...I want my good sleeping baby back!!

  2. What an awesome post! Thanks for taking the time to explain your system! We are going to be in this boat sooner rather than later I'm sure, so I'm totally saving this post for ideas!

  3. I am SO glad that you found something that works for you--I remember that call this summer about this and you were just reading about The Rules! I'm going to have to file this away in my mental rolodex for when this day comes for us but I really like it. We do similar things at school with students who need structure and a little something extra to motivate them for that buy-in.
    Also, I'm with you on screen time. After Ella's last little catnap in the early evening, we keep the tv off and it has helped her to fall asleep independently in her crib (not in our arms) TREMENDOUSLY. Night and day difference!
    Thanks for laying all of this out--it's helpful for me and I'm not even there yet so I know it will be helpful for others!

  4. You're amazing, I am definitely going to try this technique with my 3-yo son. So one question, what DO you do with Walker while you're getting Knox down, now that he doesn't use the iPad? We have 19-mo-old twins who go to bed at 6:45-7:00, and that basically means my 3 yo is unsupervised for 30ish minutes while I do the twins' bath/bedtime (my husband doesn't get home from work till 7:00pm shift). Thank you!

    1. Oh my gosh, Kathryn, YOU are amazing! Twins AND a three-year-old and handle bath and bedtime on your own?! You go, girl!

      What I usually do when Brandon is traveling and I have to put them both down is put Walker in his room with the door closed and tell him he can quietly play with quiet toys (LEGOs, wooden blocks, his play kitchen, read books, etc.) while I get Knox down. Note that we do bathe them together and then it is only about 10-15 minutes of him being unsupervised while I get Knox down. When Brandon is home, we go straight from bath to bed, so I'll put one boy down and Brandon will put the other one down. I hope this helps! :)

  5. I love this system!!! Kids need structure (and so do adults) and I love how this is a consistent routine that has made such a difference. Everyone is happier when they have more sleep. I'm with you on screen time too. I noticed that on days I used my phone a lot and had my office tv on all day, I had tons more anxiety and stress. I've really cut down on my screen time and it's really helping! I can only imagine the effect being much stronger on a child.

  6. Seriously? You rock! This is wonderful and I'm beyond happy its working for y'all! "The Rules" thing is sheer genius! Thanks for the info!

  7. Love this post - my 2 year old is going through a major regression and has been up every night at 3am for the last 3 weeks. Just when I am about to have baby 2! We have about 3 weeks to whip him in to shape :)

  8. I love this post so much and am 100% saving this for the future! I think it's hysterical that you have the "reward" breakfast and "punishment" breakfast - such a great motivator!! You're doing a great job!!

  9. Girl this is AMAZING!!! You are rocking this mom thing and I am saving this for future ;) because sleep is everything!


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