Here on the Parental Support Line, just about every call we get involves questions about consequences or rewards. A lot of parents struggle to find effective consequences while overlooking the importance of using rewards, too. Many times we recommend establishing rewards or incentive systems for kids, often in the form of a behavior chart. We think that charts can be effective for kids from age 4–16 but it's ultimately up to the parent. Their effectiveness depends on the chart and the child in question.
Behavior charts are important to consider for several reasons:
Clear expectations. When your expectations of your child are crystal clear, they are more likely to be successful.
You get more of what you pay attention to. James Lehman felt that if you pay more attention to positive behaviors, you get more of them. Conversely, ignoring some of the less desirable behaviors causes them to fade away over time.
Immediate feedback. Kids get immediate feedback about their progress. They can see how well they're performing simply by glancing at the chart, which allows them to self–correct if needed.
More motivation. Incentives are often more motivating for children than the threat of losing something they value, which can cause some kids to go into a downward spiral. If a kid makes one mistake and believes she will lose her phone indefinitely, then she might think, "What's the point?" This is particularly true for elementary aged children and kids with ADD/ADHD.
Fewer Consequences. Many parents who call the Support Line feel as if they have nothing left to take away or that they are really limited when it comes to privileges that they can restrict. Using incentives gives kids something to earn and helps parents who are feeling stuck.
Recently, the Support Line Team realized that we were recommending behavior charts quite often, but when it came to creating and implementing this system, up until now parents were left to their own devices. With that in mind, we decided to create some behavior charts to give parents easy access to these wonderful tools—and, of course, to make it easier for parents to put into practice.
We created a few different types of charts, each with its own specific set of instructions to explain how to implement it:
Single Behavior Charts. These charts are best if you want your child to work on one new skill at a time, such as doing things when asked or not interrupting when others are speaking. We created one for younger children and one for older children.
Multiple Behavior Charts. For those of you who have trouble with morning or evening routines, this one's for you! This chart would also be suitable for any other multi–step process you want your child to work on, such as cleaning his room.
Chore Chart. Our chore chart will help you establish a chore schedule for your child. This is suitable if your child has multiple chores to do during the week.
Homework Progress Charts. These charts are intended to track your child's homework–related tasks. There is a simple version and a more complex version, so you'll be able to choose the style that is suitable for your child.
We also wanted to stress that there are some important things to consider when implementing a behavior chart. The first thing to keep in mind is that rewards are not bribes. A reward is established ahead of time, at a point when things are calm and going relatively well. For example, saying to your child, "I expect you to help me find the items on the grocery list today. If you stick to the items on the list without asking for anything else, you can choose a special snack for your school lunches when we're done." In contrast, a bribe happens in the moment. If you're bribing your child, you might say, "If you stop asking me to buy extra snacks and keep quiet for the rest of the time we're here, I'll buy you that cereal you wanted on the way out."
Furthermore, many parents feel like they shouldn't reward their children for doing something they're supposed to be doing. If you're considering using a behavior chart, though, that tells us your child is not doing what she is supposed to—so it's important to find a way to motivate her. As James Lehman said, "You have to start where your child is and coach them forward." A behavior chart is not a forever thing—it's just the first step. The purpose is to use positive attention to shape your child's behavior over time.
We also recommend that you stick with one chart at a time. If you have too many charts going all at once, it will be too confusing and overwhelming for both you and your child. Remember, too, that your child will need your help at first to stay on track and learn how to use the chart. It is not realistic to expect your child to do the chart on his own right away. Trial and error is an important part of the process. It can take some experimentation to discover what types of rewards work best for your particular child. Keep in mind that behavior charts are not a cure all. They work amazingly well for some kids, and they don't work at all for others. So you need to be realistic in your expectations.
We are very excited to be able to provide these behavior charts for you. We hope you find them to be a helpful tool to add to your behavior management system at home. Please feel free to leave your comments here and let us know how it's going!
Child Behavior Charts: How to Use Behavior Charts Effectively is reprinted with permission from Empowering Parents.
The Parental Support Line Advisor Team advises parents and caregivers who are using The Total Transformation or Total Focus programs. Support Line advisors have degrees in education, counseling, social work or a related field and they are trained in the program tools. This experienced, professional team partners with parents to help support them as they work to make changes in their child's behavior.