How do I love behavior charts? Let me count the ways…
When my kids start to get a little extra whiny or aren’t being good helpers around the house, I know it’s time to bust out one of my homemade behavior charts. (Disclaimer: I know that behavior charts are not for all parents and I totally respect that). Turning a behavior chart into a behavior system helps me feel like a calmer mom because it creates a predictable routine for reinforcing good behavior. The better my kids behave, the calmer I am!
I first learned about behavior charts when I was trained to work as a behavioral therapist for children with Autism about 12 years ago using Discrete Trial Training (DTT is a technique based on the principles of Applied Behavioral Analysis or ABA). I was also introduced to the concept of a Token Economy system (which is an ABA-based reinforcement system). The systems I use are based on these principles, but I modify them in ways that work best for my kids and the kids I work with.
I loved doing this work and learning about ways to positively support children and help them thrive. I have to say, I’m not a fan of every aspect of Applied Behavioral Analysis, but I do still use some of the underlying principles in my practice and at home. After I became a Speech Pathologist (and a mom) I realized that my style was more flexible and play-based, but I still needed systems in place that would support positive behaviors.
Without getting too much more into the nitty-gritty, I feel that behavior charts that focus on positively reinforcing good behavior are a win-win! The kids I’ve done therapy with and my own kiddos love it when I bring out a fun looking behavior chart because they know it means that they will be positively reinforced for doing an awesome job (of course I still positively reinforce target behaviors with or without the chart). If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m kind of obsessed with positive reinforcement. 😉
Before I start giving my child “tokens” to place on their chart, I like to lay out the expectations and parameters of the chart so they understand why we’re using it.
Here are the ways that I turn a behavior chart into a behavior system:
1. Choose and write out target behaviors and then talk to your child about them.
- Target behaviors that I choose are usually behaviors that are the opposite of the behaviors I want to reduce.
- So, if your child is yelling way too often when they want something, your target behavior might be: “(child’s name) uses a kind voice to ask for what he/she wants.”
- Writing down the expectations on paper or a whiteboard supports your child in understanding what you are looking for and helps you remember the targets (I don’t know about you but I’ve got a mad case of mom-brain, lol!).
- Personal opinion: In the past, I think behaviorism pointed to many behaviors as being “bad” that were actually just a form of self-expression. I truly believe that children are unique and should be able to express themselves in their own way. I think we want to focus on encouraging target behaviors that make sense and that support the child in being a good and kind person.
2. Set out the parameters of the chart.
- Write down or tell your child the amount of tokens they will earn (a token at the end of the day, a token each time they demonstrate a target behavior, etc.) and the time frame for the reinforcer (when they’ve filled up the chart, if they’ve gotten a token each day for seven days, etc.).
- Next tell your child what they will earn if they fill up the section of the chart you’ve designated. This is totally up to you and can vary from allowance $, prizes, candy, a fun experience (going to the park), a special treat (ice cream night), etc.
4. Reinforce target behaviors as frequently as possible to reduce the opposite behaviors.
- It is important to notice and positively reinforce the target behaviors as often as you can to increase their frequency.
- When giving your child a token, it’s also important to reinforce with praise. It might be praising something they did with specific words, “I like how you cleaned up your toys today! You earned a token!” or “I love the way you helped your sister, you can put a token on the chart!” You want them to understand that what they did that was awesome and that’s why they’re getting a token.
- The goal is to positively reinforce the target behaviors a lot at the start to get them to the point of eventually not needing the tokens as reinforcement to use the target behavior.
- If you don’t have the token chart nearby, just make sure to use praise to reinforce the target behaviors.
5. Remember it’s about progress, not perfection.
- If you forget to reinforce a good behavior, forget to use the chart for a day, a week, or altogether, don’t be hard on yourself. Just do your best.
- Kids might bet bored of a certain chart after a while and I like to keep a similar system going, but rotate out different charts to keep them interested.
- I don’t always have a chart up and running, but I find that when I do, my kids’ behavior is much more manageable.
- Will this work for all kids and all the time? No way, and that’s totally ok! It’s all trial and error in this parenting game.
6. Have fun with it! When your child feels empowered to do great things, they will thrive.
- I like to put my own spin on behavior charts to meet the needs of my family and make them look pretty and fun! I think it’s great to customize them to what works best for your family.
As I create more behavior charts, I will add them into this post, so check back or sign up for the newsletters to get updated charts!
Have you ever used a behavior chart or system with your children? What were the pros and cons?
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