How to Use Behavior Charts at Home

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Introducing and consistently using behavior charts at home is one of the quickest ways to help your kids understand the importance of rules and why controlling their behavior is essential. So I want to share some tips (and of course a few freebies) to help you and your kids get on the same page with rules and behavior management.

Now one thing I want to mention before we start talking about behavior charts is that you can’t use them effectively until you have established family rules. If you want to create a set of family rules, you can find step-by-step instructions here.

Effectively Implementing Behavior Charts at Home

Now that you and your family have set appropriate rules, you need to help your kids understand how the rules relate to them by creating behavior charts.

Break Down the Rules for Your Kids

If you want your kids to do something, you need to tell them in very specific terms what they need to do. The younger the kids, the more simplistic their version of the rule needs to be. 

When creating family rules, you need to keep the number of rules to a minimum. However, those general rules need to be broken down into actionable steps for your child to be able to follow them.

Let’s look at an example using the general rule “Pick up after yourself.”

A young child doesn’t understand what that means, so you need to give her a modified version of that rule. For her, this means that she needs to put each toy back on the shelf where it belongs before getting another toy.

To set her up for success, you can take a picture of the toy and tape it on her shelf where it belongs. Then she knows exactly where the toy goes once she has finished playing with it. This will give her confidence to make the right choice and ultimately follow the rule.

Create “Long-Term” Rewards with Your Child

Every choice we make has consequences. The difference is that the good choices receive positive consequences or “rewards” while the bad choices receive negative consequences or “punishments.”

As adults, we understand that a positive consequence/outcome can also be the same as NOT receiving a negative consequence. In other words, I don’t speed because I don’t want to receive a speeding ticket…not because I will get an ice cream cone for driving slowly.

With young kids, this isn’t a concept that they understand just yet, so we need to implement “rewards” for positive behaviors and “punishments” for negative behaviors.

One way to help your child comply with rules is to allow them to take part in creating appropriate log-term rewards. These are the rewards she will receive after collecting a set number of stickers or smiley faces on her behavior chart.

Here are some “rewards” that you can introduce…

  • Choose a special movie to watch
  • Pick a board game to play
  • Receive extra outside play time
  • Have a dance party 
  • Return toys that have been removed (more on this in a minute!)

This will be the master list that your child can choose from at the end of each day (or whatever specific set of time you choose).

Use Choice-Focused & Not Child-Focused Language

One of the most important things you can remember as a parent is that you always want to keep the consequences choice-focused and not child-focused. In other words, you are “rewarding” or “punishing” the choice.

Let me give you an example.

Jimmy’s family has created rules and his parents have helped him understand that he should put his blocks back on the shelf before getting other toys out. This morning, Jimmy’s mom found five different sets of toys on the floor in his room and Jimmy is in the closet dragging out more.

At this point, there are several different directions this situation can go.

Reaction 1: Jimmy’s mom screams at Jimmy in frustration, tells him he’s a “bad boy” for not following the rule, and fusses at him until they’re both crying.

  • Reality: Jimmy’s mom is overwhelmed with the current circumstances and she’s just frustrated because she has told him the same thing at least 25 times. She feels guilty for losing her temper, but she doesn’t know how to change the situation.

Reaction 2: Exhausted, Jimmy’s mom says, “Jimmy, why don’t you listen?” and then promptly picks up the toys for him while he continues dragging out more toys while she picks up the others.

  • Reality: Jimmy’s mom has tried to make Jimmy follow the rules, but she can’t deal with saying the same thing AGAIN, so she caves and picks up the toys for him.

Reaction 3: Jimmy’s mom says, “Jimmy, I see you have five toys on the floor. The rule says we put one toy up before getting out another toy. So I’m going to put some of these toys up in the top of the closet for you to help you remember to put up the others first.”  

  • Reality: By removing all but 2 of Jimmy’s toys, his mom is giving him the opportunity to learn. She has removed the ability for the “mess” of toys to get out of hand by taking away many of them. She has left him with enough toys to enjoy while still being able to follow the rule.

The truth is that we’ve all been guilty of reacting in ways that we aren’t particularly happy to admit. Any time that we find ourselves overwhelmed with things in our lives, it’s easy to forget to focus our frustration on the choice and not the child.

Our words should never attack a child’s character or integrity.

Instead of saying “You’re a bad boy,” because he threw a block when the toys were taken away, point out what he did and put words to his feelings. “I see you are frustrated that I put your toys in the closet. You still have two toys that you can play with and when you put these up after you play with them, I will get some other toys out for you.”

Making sure to keep focused on the action/choice as being “bad” will help your child learn to equate good and bad with choices and not people.

Keep Track with Behavior Charts at Home

Using behavior charts at home are the perfect tools for helping kids monitor their behavior.

And to help you get started, I’ve created 3 FREE behavior charts for you to print and use with your child.

To access this, you can click the image or you can click here to be taken to the Free Printable Library. (If you don’t know the password, click here to gain free access.)

To keep you from having to print a new chart each day or each week, simply slide the printed behavior chart into a page protector or laminate it. This gives you the option to reuse the same chart week after week. Just use a dry erase marker to draw on the page protector.

Remember, you can use these however you want, but one of the easiest ways to start is by simply adding and removing marks or stickers.

Adding Stickers for Positive Behaviors

Any time you see your child following a rule, you give him/her a sticker, star, smiley face, etc. Trust me when I tell you that this is a skill that you have to practice. You see, we typically notice and punish bad choices as opposed to pointing out positive behaviors.

Using our example from before, if Jimmy’s mom saw him putting away his toy before pulling out another, she could reward him for remembering the rule by giving him a sticker to put on his behavior chart.

Then at the end of the day, if he has 5 stickers (or whatever number you decide is appropriate for his age), he gets to choose one of the long-term rewards you came up with earlier.

Removing Stickers for Negative Behaviors

If you notice your child has ignored a rule, you remove a sticker or mark from the behavior chart. It’s important that your child watches you do this as you explain why the sticker is being removed.

Be prepared for your child to pitch a fit when she sees you erasing her smiley face or taking a sticker off of her behavior chart. This is normal. But the truth is that it’s important for her to be present because she will immediately see that she is farther from receiving her reward than she was before the negative behavior.

Remember to keep your explanation simple and focused on the choice she made. Then tell her that she has plenty of time to earn more stickers throughout the rest of the day.

Using behavior charts at home in conjunction with appropriate family rules are wonderful ways to create a positive environment for everyone in your home.

Don’t worry if things don’t go perfectly the first time; the truth is they probably won’t! Just remember to show yourself (and your kids) grace and keep trying. You can do it!