If you've got a kid, chances are they like stickers. And if you have a kid who likes stickers, they've probably stuck them on any and all available surfaces: walls, the refrigerator, iPad covers, folders for school, everywhere. But why do kids love stickers so much? They're just sticky pictures, yet children seem ineffably drawn to them.
It's a puzzling quandary for parents to consider, yet we recognize that stickers are also powerful rewards for our kids. Many of us use sticker charts for chores, or to keep track of reading logs or homework. We use them to keep children busy on long flights and when they're sick. And no matter what your kid is into, there are corresponding stickers. "Stickers are available in an endless variety of children's interests, such as dinosaurs, cartoon characters, unicorns, monster trucks, etc.," Stacy Yagow, MS, OTR/L, an occupational therapist from Norfolk, Nebraska, tells Romper, so it makes sense that they "spark positive emotional responses of happiness and excitement."
The wide assortment of themes isn't the only reason children love stickers.
"Stickers have that sensory component that offers that unique sticky feeling, without the messy consequences that other artistic media involves," Yagow says.
In other words, they're sticky and feel like they could be messy (and even dangerously sticky) but they never quite go that far. (Unlike everyone's inevitable middle school experience of super gluing one's fingers together.)
"They can explore with their fingers more readily and without hesitation, because stickers don't typically overwhelm their nervous system, like glue or other sticky textures may cause," she says.
I've watched my children spend long minutes trying to find the perfect placement for a new sticker they've acquired, wanting to display it in its full glory. After Pride this past year, my daughter was swimming in a wealth of rainbow stickers; six months later she has managed to save some "just in case" a new iPad makes it under the tree (she's a planner, that one). She's also a wee bit of a sticker hoarder. She has a whole roll of "I voted" stickers that the poll workers gave to her during one particularly slow primary.
Professional teacher David S. Wills tells Romper that the sense of elation my daughter is experiencing is nearly universal among children, even when it's linked to education and not purely recreation.
"It's most likely just a tangible reward that gives them that sense of elation," he says. "Other things like praise are great but they are easily forgotten." Stickers aren't permanent, but there as close to such as a child cares to have.
If you think about it, you probably have a sticker or two on your bumper or the back of your laptop that shows off a place you've visited or proclaims a political message. My own Mac has a Ruth Bader Ginsburg and a Black Lives Matter sticker set upon its surface, and I love them. I guess it's the sheer volume of stickers kids want to acquire that baffles parents the most. What we have learned to pare down, they choose to love in mass quantities. It suits their personalities: bursting with energy, and just a little bit sticky. In the end, they're just having a good time.
Stacy Yagow, MS, OTR/L, occupational therapist
David S. Wills, professional teacher