Behavior charts are one of my most favorite parenting tools. I’m serious! We’ve been using them successfully in our household for a couple of years now, and while I periodically get lazy and let our reward systems slide when life gets busy, it doesn’t take long for me to realize how much smoother our lives run when we have behavior charts in place.
Now, let’s just clear the air here: my reliance on behavior charts doesn’t mean my daughter can’t behave appropriately or do as she’s told the first time I ask her without the incentive of some sort of reward. She can do all of that just fine, thankyouverymuch. I actually find behavior charts are more helpful to me as they force me to be more visual with my expectations of my daughter, and they remind me to encourage positive behaviors in my child instead of focusing on the negative ones.
What Are Behavior Charts?
As the name implies, behavior charts are typically used to decrease negative behaviors in children and replace them with positive ones. The idea is to ignore poor behaviors, and offer a sticker or token immediately following the behaviors you are trying to encourage. You can use behavior charts for a specific challenge you are working through (potty training) or you can use them to improve overall behavior throughout the day (exercising good listening skills, following directions, using manners, etc.).
Behavior charts can also be used to motivate kids to do things they resist, like household chores, homework, and getting ready for bed. Behavior charts tend to be most effective in kids aged 2-10 years, and offer a simple way to keep kids motivated without power struggles and consequences.
Behavior charts are usually set-up with a two-tier reward system. Kids earn a sticker each time they successfully engage in a desired behavior, and after collecting a certain number of stickers, they can cash them in for a bigger reward.
Why Are Behavior Charts Effective?
Clarify expectations upfront. One of the best ways to get our kids to behave is to provide a visual reminder of what we expect from them. This is especially important in young children and kids with developmental delays and challenges like autism, sensory processing disorder, and ADHD. When you take the time to develop a set of rules to govern your household, explain what is and isn’t appropriate, and visually remind your children what you expect from them through behavior charts, you are setting them up for success. The easier the rules are, and the more consistently you reinforce them, the easier it is for your kids to meet your expectations.
Offers immediate gratification. In order to be successful, rewards should be given immediately following a desired behavior. This not only helps kids make the connection between the behavior you are trying to enforce and the reward you are providing (which is especially important in younger kids and those with special needs), but it also increases the likelihood the child will repeat the behavior again.
Takes the focus away from negative behaviors. While both positive and negative forms of reinforcement can help change a child’s behavior, research consistently shows that positive reinforcement – the act of rewarding a child when he or she completes a desired behavior as a means of increasing the likelihood he or she will repeat the behavior again – is more effective. I find I am much better at ignoring misbehavior and avoiding negative reinforcement when I have behavior charts in place as I have the added peace of mind in knowing my expectations are clear and that I have a means to redirect, reward, and motivate my child to avoid consequences and power struggles.
Keeps kids motivated. Behavior charts can be extremely motivating to children when they are used correctly. By identifying behaviors to work on with your child that are within his or her capabilities, and then providing rewards that appeal to his or her individual interests, you increase the excitement surrounding the goals you are setting for your child, making him or her more excited and driven to succeed.
Decreases consequences and punishments. Another great thing about behavior charts is that they have the power to completely change the conversation in your household. Instead of focusing on the negative behaviors your child is engaging in and dishing out consequences and punishments (negative reinforcement), you can remind and redirect.
How to Implement Behavior Charts Effectively
I’m obviously a big believer in the power of using behavior charts, but not everyone has the same opinions as me. Teachers in particular tend to avoid using behavior charts for a variety of reasons. They don’t necessarily agree with rewarding children for basic behavior like using manners, doing their school work, following directions, etc., and feel reward systems fail to teach kids the reasons why certain rules are being enforced in the first place. Failure to earn stickers can also cause some children to feel ashamed, particularly in a classroom setting where not all children have the same skills and abilities as their peers.
While I tend to agree that classroom behavior charts are not a good idea, personal experience has taught me time and again that reward systems are highly effective when used in a home setting. When parents and caregivers take the time to explain the behaviors they would like to see their children engage in so they know what is expected of them, and then create individualized behavior charts for each of their children, they have the power to create a system that can be rewarding for both the child and the parent.
Here are some things to keep in mind when implementing behavior charts in your home:
Explain and educate. Take the time to sit down and explain the behaviors you’d like to see your child engage in and why they are important. Provide examples of why certain behaviors can be hurtful or harmful to others, and why you want to avoid them. The more your child understands, the more likely he or she is to follow through with the changes you’re trying to make.
Make sure your child can be successful. When implementing behavior charts, you want to make sure your child can be successful. Include a few behaviors you know your child can easily achieve to keep her motivation up, and add in a couple that are more challenging, but still achievable.
Use clear language and keep it simple. Make sure your behavior chart follows one common theme (potty training, good behavior, household chores, etc.) and list each behavior separately for greater success. For example, instead of creating one massive rule like, ‘I will be respectful, use good manners, stop yelling, and stop hitting and kicking’, you should break this down into individual parts:
- I am respectful
- I say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’
- I use an inside voice
- I keep my hands and feet to myself
Not only is the language simple and easy for your child to follow, but there’s a greater likelihood your child will be successful. When you roll a bunch of different behaviors together, one infraction means no stickers are earned, but when you break it down into smaller chunks, there are more ways for your child to earn rewards, which is much more motivating.
Get your child involved. Behavior charts are a way to reward your child, and in order for them to be effective, you want your little one to be excited about them. Once you have an idea of the behaviors you want to work on, you can create the chart together. Don’t be afraid to get creative, and take your child shopping for stickers he or she likes to make it extra fun!
Choose rewards wisely. Work with your child to choose rewards that will motivate him or her, but that you can sustain over time. Additional time watching TV or playing on the iPad, an extra book at bedtime, a trip to the park after school, etc. all work well, but I encourage you against using sweets and monetary rewards as you probably won’t be able to keep those up long-term.
Reward your child immediately following a desired behavior. This will help establish a connection between the 2 and keep him or her motivated.
Never take stickers or rewards away. In order for behavior charts to be effective, it’s important that you refrain from shaming your child. If a sticker or reward was earned, it is something to be proud of. Do not punish your child by discounting something he or she worked hard to achieve.
Don’t reprimand. If your child isn’t successful in earning a sticker for one or 2 days, do not reprimand him or her. Instead, spend some time reviewing the goals of the good behavior chart again and be sure to give reminders throughout the day to encourage success.
Implement a two-tier reward system. To make things extra-motivating, you can implement a two-tier reward system whereby your child will earn a small reward for each sticker earned (10 minutes of iPad time) and a bigger reward for earning all 5 stickers (a trip to the library, baking a special dessert with mom, etc.).
6 Free Printable Behavior Charts
Now that you know what behavior charts are and how to implement and enforce them for ongoing behavior management, it’s time to find a template that works for you and your child. I tend to prefer store-bought options that can be individualized and grow with our goals and needs over time (see below for 8 of my favorites!), but if you’re looking for free printable behavior charts, here are 6 options to consider. Remember that these are just checklists/templates. You’ll need to ensure the items listed are applicable to the behaviors you’re trying to work on, and work in some sort of reward system. The easiest option is to reward checks or stickers each time your child completes an item on the checklist, and then reward a bigger prize for earning a pre-determined number of checks or stickers each day/week.
Free Token Charts for Positive Reinforcement | Teachers Pay Teachers
This is a great resource for parents of younger or special needs kids who are working on a specific behavior like toilet training. Each time your child is successful with a behavior you’re trying to enforce, you reward one sticker, and after a certain number of stickers are earned, a bigger reward is given to the child.
Free Printable Morning Chart for Kids | Carrie This Home
If you struggle to get your kids out the door without power struggles and crying jags each morning, this simple morning chart might save your sanity! Print off, attach to a clipboard, and give your child a (washable) marker so he or she feels more in control. A little accountability can go a long way, and when you add stickers and end-of-week rewards into the mix, it can be that much more motivating.
Free Printable After School Routine Chart | Artsy Fartsy
If your little ones don’t do well with the unstructured time available to them after school and you want a system to help keep them accountable for things like chores and homework, this after school checklist is a great one to consider. Put a stack by your front door with stickers so your kids can pickup a clean copy when they get home each day, or laminate one per child and equip them with a clipboard and whiteboard marker.
Free Printable Bedtime Routine Charts | Bitz & Giggles
If bedtime is a challenge in your household, this is a great chart to keep everyone on track as it gives kids a list of the things they need to do before they turn the lights off. Print off a new copy each week and reward a sticker each time your child completes a step without putting up a fight. You can then let your child cash in his or her stickers at the weekend for a bigger prize.
Free Editable Chore Chart for Kids | Printable Crush
If you’re looking for a basic chore chart you can customize for your children, this is a great option. Print one off for each of your children and customize it as you see fit. To keep it extra motivating, you can use stickers of your child’s favorite characters instead of check marks!
Free Printable Reward Coupons for Kids | Wondermom Wannabe
If you struggle to come up with good reward ideas for your kids, this is a great idea. With things like ‘building a blanket fort’, ‘one extra bedtime story’, and ‘getting out of one chore’, these serve as great short-term motivators for kids and may inspire you to come up with your own!
8 Behavior Chart Ideas You Can Customize For Your Child
If you’re looking for behavior charts you can buy and customize for your child that are visually pleasing and will work long-term, here are 8 behavior chart ideas I really love.
‘I Can Do It!’ Caterpillar Token Board
If you’re just getting started with reward charts with younger kids and/or you have a child with developmental challenges like autism, sensory processing disorder, or ADHD, this is a simple solution to consider. Pick one behavior you want to work on (potty training), explain how stickers are earned (one per pee on the potty, 2 per poo on the potty) and select an end reward (15 minutes of iPad time). It’s simple, yet effective!
Eureka Mickey Clubhouse Reward Chart
If you want to use a basic sticker chart to work on a specific behavior or challenge with your child, but want to increase the number of stickers your little one has to earn before receiving a bigger reward, this chart is a great option.
Magnetic Reward Chart Set
If you want to create your own reward chart, this is a great option to consider. With 20 magnetic chores to choose from (get dressed, brush my teeth, pack my school bag, do my homework, water the plants, be polite, get ready for bed, etc.) as well as the ability to write your own, you can easily personalize this for any behaviors you’d like to work on with your child. This chart will stick to your fridge and contains 240 magnetic reward stars, so it really is an all-in-one option!
Learning Responsibility Chart for Multiple Kids
This reward chart is very similar to the one above, but it can be used for up to 3 kids. The only caveat is that your goals have to be the same for each child in order for this to be an effective solution. If you have similar expectations for each of your children at a specific time of day (morning, after school, or bedtime), this might be perfect and save you from creating multiple charts.
Customizable Daily and Weekly Chore Chart
This is the chore chart we first started with, and I absolutely love it as it sticks to your fridge and allows you designate both daily and weekly chores. It is 100% customizable, and looks really striking when you fill it in with colored chalk markers.
Morning Routine Chart
A great way to make mornings run smoothly is to provide kids with a visual of what is expected of them, allowing them to take control while still getting themselves ready and out the door on time for school. This chart is simple but it gets the job done, and you can easily find ways for your child to earn stickers or checks along the way.
Bedtime Routine Reward Chart
Bedtime is often an area where parents struggle as everyone is overtired and overwhelmed by this point in the day, and while children want to stay up as long as possible, moms and dads are in need of a little downtime. Sound familiar? I thought it might! This bedtime routine chart is a simple but fun way to motivate your child to get through his or her bedtime routine without a fuss.
Make Your Own!
If you’re eager to create behavior charts for your kids, but need a blank slate to create something that targets specific behaviors and that can be customized to suit your children’s individual interests, I highly recommend you create your own. While I had a lot of luck with our daily and weekly chore chart for a long time, I eventually realized that what my daughter and I needed was a list of house rules. We spent time crafting them together, and then I purchased a basic chalkboard and colored chalk markers and I created something simple and functional that looks good and gets the job done. I love that I can add and remove rules from our chart, and that it’s specific to my child. There are no pre-defined templates, rules, or chores, and it’s 100% ours to do with as we please, giving the 2 of us a lot more ownership and pride.
I hope the information in this post about creating and implementing behavior charts with your children to encourage positive behavior proves useful to you! Remember to keep things simple and within your child’s abilities, to appeal to his or her interests, to avoid shaming, and to keep the conversation positive for greater motivation and success!
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