The Best Behavior Charts for Kids of All Ages

Behavior charts track a child's actions to encourage positive conduct. Learn how to use sticker charts, color charts, and weekly points charts.

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As a parent, handling day-to-day conflicts can be incredibly daunting. It may seem like toddler temper tantrums and big-kid attitudes never stop, no matter which parenting style you use. But behavior charts can help! This tactic has helped many families get their kids on track. These charts reward and promote positive behavior while discouraging less desirable behavior.

"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."

But parents can't expect the same behavior chart to work for each child and for each behavioral issue, says Dr. Bisaga. "You can't have one technique for every problem that arises." Instead, aim to choose a chart based on your child's unique personality and specific behavior goals.

Feel free to modify your chart to best suit your child, schedule, and family needs. To get started, check out the three different home-use behavior charts for kids outlined below.

Sticker Charts

Sticker charts are a classic DIY behavior chart system for kids, and they rely on positive reinforcement. They're especially helpful for young children to learn new skills like going potty on the toilet, picking up their toys, or saying "thank you."

Target age

Sticker charts are usually geared toward toddlers and preschoolers who care more about receiving praise than gaining material rewards. For many little kids, earning a sticker is enough incentive to influence their behavior.

How sticker charts work

Create a sticker chart that lists the behavior you want to track. Every time your toddler or preschooler performs the desired behavior, place a sticker on the chart. If you're trying to potty train, for instance, your toddler will receive a sticker whenever they use the toilet.

Tips for sticker chart success

These tips will help make your sticker chart a success.

  • Generate excitement by decorating the sticker chart according to your child’s interests—anything from superheroes to animals or favorite cartoon characters to books. Be sure to choose stickers that your child will be excited about.
  • Give stickers out right away, says Dr. Bisaga. If you delay giving rewards for positive actions, your little one might not understand why they're receiving praise.
  • 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 and ensure the desired behavior gets ingrained before moving on to mastering a new skill.
  • Even if their efforts aren't perfect, you can give a sticker just for trying; the goal is to motivate them to keep at it and reinforce the positive.

Weekly Points Chart

Weekly points 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. 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 continue or change such as setting the table, not yelling at siblings, or making their bed. Your child receives points for each successful behavior, then once they reach certain milestones, they can trade in points for a reward.

These prizes might be a later bedtime, a trip to the park, a new book, small amounts of change, extra TV time, or a family bike ride. The reward can be anything motivating that you jointly decide on.

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 points chart success

Use these strategies to ensure your points chart works for your child:

  • Be consistent about monitoring their behavior and doling out points so that your child stays engaged with the chart.
  • Be sure to discuss your expectations and how the chart works. That way your child is clear on what they need to do.
  • 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 (for example, Kids must complete all items before 6 p.m. to receive points for the day).
  • Pick a few behaviors to target with the chart and add on more once the initial ones become habitual.
  • Talk to your kid about the chart and choose rewards they're excited about to motivate them to follow the system.

Color Behavior Chart

Color charts for kids are inherently visual, and they track general behaviors instead of specific actions.

Target age

Color charts work for children of all ages, from toddlers to school-aged kids.

How color charts work

You can find color chart printables online or create your own. 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 their behavior throughout the day.

For example, take the color chart by Heidi Kundin from Happiness is Homemade, 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 Kundin moves it based on behavior.

Color Behavior Chart for Kids

If the child reaches the top red color ("Outstanding"), they get to stay up 15 minutes later at bedtime—but if they move to the bottom purple color ("Parent's Choice") they get a consequence. Consequences could be loss of electronics for the night or an earlier bedtime.

Tips for color chart success

Use these methods to get the most out of using a color chart:

  • Expect it to take a few weeks for behavior changes to become ingrained. That's why it's important to stick with the chart, says Dr. Bisaga. Remember, consistency is key for any discipline philosophy.
  • 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.
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