The 3 Best Behavior Charts for Kids of All Ages
As a parent, handling day-to-day conflicts is incredibly daunting. It may seem like toddler temper tantrums and big-kid attitudes never stop, no matter which parenting style you try. But here’s a tactic to test out: creating a behavior chart for kids at home, which rewards positive behavior and discourages negative actions.
"As a parent, it pays to see the glass as half full," says Katarzyna Bisaga, M.D., Ph.D., a child and adolescent psychiatrist and assistant clinical professor in Columbia University's Division of Child Psychiatry in New York City. "You should build a positive relationship with your children and underscore their good behavior. Otherwise, you let your experience of your kids be shaped by their negative actions.”
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However, parents can’t expect the same behavior chart to work for each child, says Dr. Bisaga. "You can't have one technique for every problem that arises.” Instead, moms and dads must choose a chart based on their child’s unique personality and their specific misbehavior. To get started, check out the three different home-use behavior chart for kids outlined below.
Sticker charts are a classic DIY behavior chart for kids, and they rely on positive reinforcement. They’re especially helpful for young children to learn new behaviors like going potty on the toilet or saying “thank you.”
Best Age: Sticker charts are usually geared for toddlers and preschoolers who care more about receiving praise than gaining material rewards. For many little kids, earning a sticker is enough incentive to change their behavior.
How Sticker Charts Work: Create a sticker chart that lists the behavior you want to track. Every time your toddler or preschooler acts positively, place a sticker on the chart. If you’re trying to potty train, for instance, your toddler will receive a sticker whenever she uses the toilet.
Tips for Sticker Chart Success:
- Generate excitement by decorating the sticker chart according to your child’s interests (superheroes, cartoon characters, butterflies, etc.) Also choose stickers that she’s excited about.
- Little kids won’t necessarily understand the sticker chart off the bat, so clearly explain its purpose regularly. (Remember, you get a sticker if you go potty on the toilet!”)
- Only track one behavior at a time to avoid confusion.
- Dr. Bisaga says not to delay giving rewards for positive actions. Otherwise your little one might not understand why she’s receiving praise.
Weekly Points Chart
Weekly point charts focus on changing existing behaviors rather than learning new ones. Children receive tangible rewards for positive actions.
Target Age: Point charts work best for school-aged kids.That’s because, unlike toddlers and preschoolers, older children probably won’t be motivated by stickers alone.
How Points Charts Work: Each week, you can set up a chart based on behaviors your child needs to change (setting the table, not yelling at siblings, making his bed, etc.) Your child receives points for each successful behavior, then once he reaches certain milestones, he can trade in points for a reward. These prizes might be a later bedtime, trip to the park, a new book, small amounts of change, extra TV time, or a family bike ride.
Here’s an example: When Dr. Bisaga set up a points system with her 7-year-old son, he received points for getting dressed by a certain time in the morning, brushing his teeth, eating his breakfast, putting his coat and shoes away after school, taking a bath, and brushing his teeth. He then earned 10 cents for every three points (and he spent his loot on small toys!)
Tips for Weekly Point Charts:
- Feel free to customize the weekly points charts for your family. Some parents choose to take points away for bad behavior, while others implement a time-sensitive element. (Kids must complete all items before 6 p.m. to receive points for the day).
- Talk to your kid about the chart and choose rewards he’s excited about. This will motivate him to follow the system.
Color Behavior Chart
Color charts for kids are inherently visual, and they track general behaviors instead of specific actions.
Best Age: Color charts work for of all ages, from toddlers to school-aged kids.
How Color Charts Work: You can find color chart printables online or create your own version. Here’s how: Choose six or seven colors, and stack them vertically on the chart. Each color corresponds with certain behavior, escalating from poor choices at the bottom to positive actions at the top. Your child gets a clothespin that you move up and down the chart based on his behavior throughout the day.
For example, Heidi Kundin from Happiness is Homemade made the color chart below, which is split into six different sections: Parent’s Choice, Think About It, Ready to Listen, Good Day, Great Job, and Outstanding. Each child starts the day on the green color (“Ready to Listen”), and Heidi moves it based on behavior. If the child reaches the top red color (“Outstanding”), she gets to stay up 15 minutes later at bedtime—but if she moves to the bottom purple color (“Parent’s Choice”) she gets a consequence. Consequences could be loss of electronics for the night or an earlier bedtime.
Tips for Color Charts:
- When you move the clothespin, clearly explain the reasoning to your child. (“You’re moving down on the chart because you stole your sister’s toy.”) This eliminates any confusion regarding positive or negative actions.
- Your child can help decorate the color chart for added personalization.
- Stick with the chart. Dr. Bisaga says that consistency is key for any discipline philosophy.