How to Use a Behavior Chart to Motivate Your Kids

How to Use a Behavior Chart to Motivate Your Kids

Take a sweeping look over any elementary school classroom, and you’ll find a behavior chart of some sort. Why do those simple pieces of paper remain so popular? The answer is simple: behavior charts work! Based on the concept of extrinsic motivation, they can prompt the kids to change negative behaviors, develop good habits, and see their progress towards goals.

Unfortunately, not all behavior charts will do miracles. Yours won’t be effective if they make your kids feel bad about themselves, or are punishment-focused, rather than leverage the principles of positive reinforcement. Some other common issues with charts are as follows:

  • Charts that are too complex
  • Behavior trackers are too boring and forgettable
  • Goals and rewards that aren’t meaningful

OK, so how do you get things right with something as simple as a chart? We’ve got several actionable tips!

The Most Popular Types of Behavior Charts

First, let’s decide which type of chart will work best for your munchkins. Here’s a brief overview of different reward charts options.

Sticker Chart

Are you trying to encourage your child to pick up a good habit or follow through with a positive behavior? Try a sticker chart. These are particularly effective for younger kids who are more likely to be motivated by the simple experience of receiving a sticker. The concept is simple. Each time the child engages in the desired behavior (e.g.: picks up toys or uses the potty) they get a sticker.

Chore Chart

A chore chart is a kiddo version of a good old to-do list we all love to hate. It can be a handy tool for installing some discipline.

There are two reasons why the chore charts work:

  • They provide the child with a clear list of expectations.
  • Children may also find them intrinsically motivating if they are allowed to check off each job as they finish it.

Of course, many parents tie chore charts with incentives. That’s a great way to teach self-motivation, especially when kids know it’s their responsibility to complete the tasks to earn some privileges or another type of reward.

Weekly Behavior Chart

How do you deal with frustrating behaviors without making your child feel bad? Try creating a weekly behavior chart for your kids. As the name implies, it’s a simple tracker aimed at addressing some problematic behaviors.

Start by identifying one and three actions to address. Positively frame them. For example, write ‘ X goes to bed on time’ rather than ‘Y doesn’t argue over bedtime’. At the end of each day, give the child a sticker or checkmark when they behave as desired. Later, when they’ve earned a predetermined number of checks, they can trade those in for a treat.

Routine Chart

Kids thrive on routines. As they grow, children must understand and take responsibility for their daily routines. By creating a routine chart, you help them:

  • Understand what is going to happen during their day
  • Know what is expected of them
  • Develop good habits
  • Begin to do self-care tasks independently
  • Signal when it’s time to ‘change gears’

For younger kids, consider using pictures to illustrate each task. If you have older kids, you can instruct them to use the chart as a to-do list, and prevent nagging.

How to Create a Behavior Chart

Here are some easy to follow tips for designing an effective behavior chart.

Limit the number of behaviors you are addressing. Don’t work on too many behaviors at once. This can be confusing and discouraging. Also, don’t add new corrective measures before the kiddo changes their previous ways.

Always use positive phrasing in your directions. For example ‘plays well with others’ is better than ‘no fighting’. Never shame for a lack of checkmarks or stickers. Instead, encourage your child to keep trying.

Be specific. Many children do better if they are given goals to work towards. ‘Cooperates in the morning’ may be too much for them to understand. Instead, they may do better with goals like, ‘Sits nicely at the breakfast table’.

Be consistent. Your good habits are important. Work hard to remember to complete the chart each day and set yourself as a role model whenever possible.

Decide how often to dole out rewards. Younger kids need frequent praise and often smaller rewards. Older kids can learn to work towards more significant prizes and privileges given less frequently.

Of course, most parents want to know how they should reward their children. Here, the key is balance. Big rewards for small tasks lead to unrealistic expectations and entitlement. Rewards that are too small are meaningless. Work with your kids to determine what would be meaningful to them, and acceptable to you. As you consider how to give rewards, don’t ignore the power of acknowledgment. Certificates for kids are a tangible way to let kids know you are proud of something they’ve done!

kids certificate templates

Now that you know how to make a behavior chart, you can apply the techniques here. This will improve the odds that this proven method of behavioral modification will bring positive results.

Photo by Ryan Wallance

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