Last year I went on a Star Chart workshop, one that Robin Booth presented. I was intrigue to see if there was anything new to this age-old method of behavioural modification. I sometimes joke by saying that I could have saved myself a lot of work and instead of studying I should have just invested in a sticker company. Somehow, children just seem to respond to stickers.
I was pleasantly surprised. Robin has skillfully expanded this method to include loads of different fun activities, from a mere observation chart to “gamification”, a fantastic concept.
Armed with all the latest on Star Charts I set off to see how I can implement this. As with all therapies, supplements and suggestions, I only prescribe something to a patient I have tried myself, so I wanted to test this on Zoë, my 13-year-old daughter. Now, the success of a star charts has been proven, but I wanted to see if this remains true for a teenager, so I decided to take the simplest of charts (the observation chart) and add a little zest to it.
The Observation Chart triggered something in me and I was reminded of the work of Quantum Physics and the Observer Effect. In science the term observer effect refers to changes that the act of observation will make on a phenomenon being observed. In this case the phenomenon was a beautiful, temperamental, typical yet unique teenager. The possible effect of introducing a STAR CHART (how lame! I could see the rolling of the eyes) could have devastating effects on an already fragile self-esteem (teenage by-product). The range of emotions we have to navigate ranges from being totally embarrassed, anger, fear and loving acceptance anything in-between. My status can go gone from hero to zero in less than a second. Too many possible variables for any sound experimentation. I had to add an element of fun to spice up the mix, so I added intrigue, mystery.
Observation charts do not have a set reward like most other Star Chars do, it basically just charts a certain behaviour, when you see that behaviour. You observe and you plot the behavior, it’s as simple as that.
The observation I charted: dirty clothes ending up in the wash basket at night.
Action: a bright red poster above the wash basket with squares on. I did not explain, instruct or comment. I said nothing (a test in pure willpower from my side).
When she noted the poster and asked about it I said nothing, just smiled. I think she caught on pretty quickly what this was about and being I teenager the clothes were dropped next to the basket. I said nothing and did nothing. No sticker.
The next evening she dropped half of her clothes in the basket, so half a sticker appeared. Now it was game on, I knew I hooked her.
She would do something to see if she got a sticker and I knew that I got her hooked. Obviously she got it very quickly after the first accidental ‘reward’, in this case, just an acknowledgement from my side that I see that she did something that was in line with what I have previously asked her to do. Only now, I did not need to have a discussion with her, I did not have to ask, plead, beg or threaten. Clothes in the basket, equals a sticker. Nothing more. Zoë played along, just enjoying the fact that I noted when she did do something right. That was enough.
Obviously the novelty wore off, but I have achieved my goal and was pleasantly reminded that we all like to be noticed, acknowledged and the observation chart was just another method of doing this.