How to Create a Behavior Chart for Your Child

A daughter and father looking at a behavior chart

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A behavior chart is one of the easiest and fastest behavior modification tools available. Kids love the immediate feedback offered by a reward system and a behavior chart can help keep them motivated to stay on track. The behavior chart shouldn't be used to shame or embarrass your child. Hearing things like, "You only got one sticker all week," won't motivate your child to do better. But, you can take steps to make a behavior chart a rewarding experience.

Create a Behavior Chart for Your Child

Here are seven steps to creating an effective behavior chart.

Identify the Desired Behavior

Choose which behavior you want to address first. It’s best to start simple, by focusing on only a few behaviors you want to address (we recommend selecting up to three). Working on too many behaviors at a time can be confusing.

Be specific. Saying, "be good," won't work because your child won't know exactly what that means. 

Frame the behavior in a positive manner—state what you want to see your child do. For example, rather than saying, “No hitting,” try “Use gentle touches with the cat.”

Decide How Often to Give Rewards

Think about how often your child is going to need feedback for their good behavior.

Younger children may need a sticker, checkmark, or star to denote their progress several times a day, but older kids may be able to wait until the end of the day for feedback.

You may want to reward your child mid-morning, late afternoon, or evening. Or, divide the day up into three distinct segments: before school, after school, and bedtime. You may also decide it’s best to concentrate on the behavior during one part of the day only. 

Identify Larger Rewards

While sticker charts may motivate a preschool-age child for a while, most kids need to exchange those stickers for bigger rewards to stay motivated. Rewards, however, don’t need to be expensive. There are many free and low-cost rewards that can be very effective.

It’s essential to use rewards that your child is interested in earning. For some kids, electronics time could be an effective reward. For other kids, staying up an extra 15 minutes could be the best reward.

Get your child to offer input into the things she wants to earn. Then, she'll be especially motivated to work toward those rewards. 

Establish a Goal

Create a realistic goal that outlines when your child will be rewarded. You may want a daily goal such as, “If you earn three checkmarks today, we’ll play a game after dinner.”

Older kids may be able to wait a little longer for a reward. Consider a goal such as, “If you get five checkmarks for handing in your homework on time this week, we’ll go to the park on Friday after school.”

Explain the Chart

Talk to your child about the behavior chart. Make it clear that the chart is about helping him, not punishing him.

Talk about how it’s up to him to earn privileges and rewards for his good behavior. Give your child an opportunity to ask questions about how the behavior chart works. 

Use Praise for Added Reinforcement

It’s important to use praise in addition to the behavior chart. Then, as your child learns new behaviors and masters new skills, you can phase out your rewards and use praise only.

Adjust as Needed

Sometimes, reward systems require a little trial and error. If the behavior chart seems too easy for your child, adjust his goal to make it a little more challenging.

If your child is struggling to earn meet his goal after several attempts, the reward system may be too difficult. Make it a little easier so they can experience some success, which will motivate them to keep doing well.

As your child’s skills improve, phase out a specific behavior you’re working on and add another behavior. There are many behaviors that respond well to reward systems. If your child grows tired of a behavior chart, consider replacing it with a token economy system.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Steps for creating a reward program.

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Positive Reinforcement Through Rewards.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Positive reinforcement through rewards.

Additional Reading
  • Positive Reinforcement Through Rewards
  • Webster-Stratton C. The Incredible Years: parents, teachers, and childrens training series: program content, methods, research and dissemination 1980-2011. Seattle, WA: Incredible Years; 2011.

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.