Kids respond to visual communication: that’s one reason picture books are such a wonderful introduction to the joys of reading. Children also crave praise from parents and teachers, and respond to rewards that make them proud of their accomplishments.
Behavior charts help children work toward goals and earn the praise and rewards they crave. It isn’t necessary to purchase a pre-formatted behavior chart: parents can make a behavior chart at home, and teachers can use whiteboards or individualized charts custom printed for each student and stored privately in a personal folder. Creative adults can illustrate charts with cartoon drawings of favorite storybook characters and use colors to liven up a chart’s appearance.
To effectively influence a child’s conduct, charts should be fun to work with, attractive to look at, clear, and focused. Here’s everything you need to know about creating a behavior chart.
Keep It Simple
A common mistake in creating a behavior chart is to make it about too many behaviors or overly complicated with difficult concepts. Effective behavior charts focus on addressing a few age-appropriate behaviors for the child.
For very young children, a chart might have rows for going to bed on time, dressing themselves, and saying “please” and “thank you.”
Older children can follow chore charts that include keeping a tidy room, unloading the dishwasher, emptying wastebaskets, or putting away clean laundry. Break down chores to one a day to give the child a great chance of success.
Clearly communicate what a child must do to meet their goals. Don’t disappoint or confuse a child with a vague goal like “keep the bathroom neat.” Break the goal into understandable parts, like “hang up your towel” and “put the cap back on the toothpaste.”
Instead of setting negative goals like “don’t hit your brother” or “don’t leave dirty dishes in the sink,” try to phrase the goal in positive terms, such as “share your toys” or “rinse your dirty plate and put it in the dishwasher.” Encourage good behavior, such as washing hands, taking turns, or “using your inside voice.”
The chart should clearly define what the child should do or avoid doing without complicating the goal with too many different types of behavior.
Potentially Harmful Behaviors
Many children have a thumb-sucking habit, while others get the same comfort from sucking their fingers. While most outgrow these habits, some kids persist in them into their school years. Sadly, these behaviors can cause dental deformation, infections, and bullying.
Behavior charts can help kids overcome difficult habits like this, but your child may need extra help breaking habits they’ve come to rely upon for comfort and security. Learning how to stop finger sucking isn’t easy, and fighting the impulse to self-soothe with thumb sucking sometimes requires stronger methods than a behavior chart.
Using a device like the T-Guard AeroFinger and AeroThumb is a safe and gentle means of breaking these harmful habits. You can work wearing the apparatus into your behavior chart, with a larger reward on the day the device is no longer necessary.
If your child is behaving aggressively, engaging in self-harming behaviors like banging their head against a wall, or having meltdowns over things that seem mundane to you, like certain smells, tags on clothing, or textures of some foods, consult your pediatrician immediately. Your child may have a developmental difference like sensory integration disorder or an autism spectrum disorder that needs the help of a professional therapist.
Young children will respond to simple rewards like stickers that they can affix to their chart themselves. Think about the simple things a child craves, like a hug, a healthy treat, or playing a favorite game. For goals that may take more time to achieve, like consistently using the potty, buy inexpensive toys from a dollar store and keep them in a reward basket or “treasure chest” so the child can choose their reward immediately.
Older kids may need a little more motivation, and you can use a chart to help a child work toward a goal cumulatively. That way, if they meet their daily expectation, they will have earned a new basketball, a new dress for a favorite doll, or a trip to their favorite pizza place at the end of the week. They could even earn more screen time, an extra round of video games before bed, or a boost in their weekly allowance.
Even if a child works toward a goal cumulatively, immediate rewards for desired behavior are important. Offer praise each time the child demonstrates the type of behavior you are trying to encourage, and remind the child that when they keep up the good behavior, they will earn their reward by the end of the day or the week.
Allow the Child To Mark the Chart
Whether using stickers, check marks, colorful adhesive stars, or magnets, involve the child in marking their progress on their behavior chart. They’ll look forward to posting their progress on their chart, and the opportunity to do that may motivate them to achieve a daily goal.
When the Novelty Wears Off
Be ready for your charts to become less effective. The fun of earning a reward can devolve into a chore fairly quickly. Use positive reinforcement when your child consistently demonstrates the behavior you are trying to encourage. “Looks like you’re ready for a new challenge!” or “you’ve gotten too grown up for this chart; let’s make a new one!” and then allow your child to formulate goals and create a chart to track progress toward them.
Detaching From Charts
The ultimate goal of creating a behavior chart is to gradually wean a child off the need for rewards and help them find internal motivation for good behavior. As you work through a chart, your child will notice your mood and response. They’ll see that you’re calmer, less irritable, and more attentive to them when they demonstrate the desired behavior.
Eventually, that should be motivation enough, and soon, they’ll find that when they complete chores or behave with kindness toward their siblings, they feel better about themselves and can confidently approach new challenges.
If you want to stop a behavior such as thumb sucking, TGuard kits include reward charts and stickers. Take the information you’ve learned above and apply it to breaking your child’s thumb-sucking habit.