4 Types of Behavior Charts That Motivate Kids

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Just like adults, kids do better when they have clear, written goals. A behavior chart is a great way to share those goals with your kids and motivate them with a fun, visual way to monitor their progress.

There are several different types of behavior charts and reward systems that can help you encourage your kids to change their behaviors or stick to a routine. Plus they provide a quick and easy way to keep track of your child’s behavior together as a family. Here are four types of charts that can be especially effective.

Sticker Chart

To many parents, the idea of a sticker chart might seem a little simplistic. But when it comes to toddlers and preschoolers, these charts can be highly effective. They especially work well with potty training and getting kids to sleep independently.

Sticker charts are even used to help kids with chronic health problems adhere to treatment regimens. And many times, the use of sticker charts results in better clinical outcomes.

The same is true with other behaviors you want to change. If your child is motivated by a sticker chart, they may be more likely to follow household rules and guidelines.

You also can use a sticker chart to reinforce healthy behaviors like hand washing, wearing masks, or covering their cough. This can be particularly useful in helping kids develop new habits in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

However, stick to one or maybe two behaviors you want to address at a time. Adding too much at one time can be overwhelming for little ones. Here's an overview of how to use sticker charts with your kids.

  • How It Works: Identify one good behavior you want to see from your child. Then, when your child exhibits that behavior, place a sticker on a piece of paper.
  • When to Use It: Sticker charts work well with toddlers and preschoolers. Usually, the sticker is a reward enough for them. Try using a sticker chart with new behaviors that you want your child to learn, like potty training or picking up toys.
  • How to Make It Most Effective: Let your child pick the stickers that will go on the chart and hang the chart in a prominent location. Your child will most likely be proud of the stickers they've earned and want to make sure everyone sees it.
  • Common Traps to Avoid: Don’t overcomplicate a sticker chart. You don’t need to draw out days of the week or turn it into a calendar. Young children don’t care whether they earned a sticker on Tuesday or Thursday.

Chore Chart

Parents often struggle with whether or not they should give their kids chores, let alone use a chore chart. But research shows that assigning chores to your kids is one of the most important parenting decisions you will ever make.

In fact, research from a well-known Harvard study indicates that kids who had chores fared better in life. What's more, chores were one of the best predictors of which kids were more likely to become happy, healthy, and independent adults.

Kids who do chores also learn important life skills and feel like they are part of a team. Plus, taking responsibility around the house teaches them the importance of helping others and being good citizens.

Make it clear that these chores are your child's responsibility and that they need to do their work to earn privileges. Plus, having something to work toward can make the monotony of being home all the time due to the pandemic more bearable.

Even if your kids are swamped with schoolwork and activities, they can find a little time to sweep the floor or wash the dishes. Here's an overview of how to use a chore chart in your household.

  • How It Works: Create a list of chores. Then keep track of each day your child performs each chore, like making their bed or cleaning their room.
  • When to Use It: A chore chart can help children of all ages become more responsible. Your child will be more likely to get their work done when there’s a clear list of chores right in front of them. Use a checkmark to note when each chore is complete.
  • How to Make It Most Effective: Tell your child they can earn privileges—like electronics time—by completing their chores. Or, use it as a way to keep track of how much allowance they earn each week. 
  • Common Traps to Avoid: Avoid nagging your child to do their chores. Give your kids a deadline to have the chore completed and then let them take responsibility for getting it done.

Routine Chart

Kids thrive when they have structure and predictability in their lives. Using a routine chart can help you solidify a routine you want to develop in your household. For instance, a routine chart can be used to create morning routines, bedtime routines, and even everyday routines.

Providing this type of structure is especially important during the uncertainty that comes with the 2020–2021 school year. Having a chart to refer to can keep things moving in a positive direction and allow children feel like they have more control at a time when things can feel chaotic.

Keep in mind that the best way to make your routine chart effective is to get your kids excited about its creation. Allow them to have input in what they want to include as part of the routine—like picking a story before bed or having a snack before brushing their teeth.

Of course, you will include the necessities in your routine chart, but allowing your kids to participate gets them to buy into the idea of a chart, especially if they are older. Then, use the chart each day as a visual reminder of the things that need to happen.

  • How It Works: Make a schedule that outlines your child’s routine. You may want to make a morning routine, an after-school routine, and an evening routine chart. Include things like homework, teeth brushing, getting dressed, putting pajamas on, and other daily tasks you want your child to do independently.
  • When to Use It: A clear schedule will help your child become more responsible. A simple chart for a preschooler may include two or three things that will help them get ready in the morning. A routine chart for an older child may signal when it’s time to do homework and when it’s time to put away electronics for the night.
  • How to Make It Most Effective: If your child struggles to read, use pictures to depict each activity. Hang your routine chart in an area where your child will need it most—perhaps the bedroom or the bathroom.
  • Common Traps to Avoid: Rather than constantly reminding your child to comb their hair or brush their teeth, use a routine chart as a type of "to-do" list.

Weekly Behavior Chart

If you're looking for a way to modify your child's behavior, you might want to consider developing a weekly behavior chart. Identify what it is you want to address as well as how your child will be rewarded for success.

For instance, you can use a behavior chart to help your child address acting out in school. Keep the chart simple and only focus on one or two behaviors that you want to address like disrupting class or not completing homework on time. But make it attainable too.

If you tell children they need to get a checkmark every single day, they may give up easily if they're not performing well. Focus on the positives and remind them that they can try again next time.

Also, be specific with your requests. Instead of saying do your homework, indicate that completing homework includes turning it on time and in the proper format. Also, refrain from using the chart to shame or embarrass your child. Instead, use it to motivate them to modify their behavior. Here are some ideas on how you can implement a weekly behavior chart.

  • When to Use It: A weekly behavior chart works well when you’ve identified a behavior—or perhaps three behaviors—your child needs to work on. You can address a variety of behaviors, such as “use gentle touches" or “get homework done.”
  • How It Works: Identify the behavior you want to see more of and write it on the chart. Rather than saying, “No hitting,” say, “Use kind touches.” Then, each day you see the desired behavior, mark it on the chart with a sticker, checkmark, or smiley face. If your child is really struggling with a specific behavior, break the day down into timeframes, such as morning, afternoon, and evening.
  • How to Make It Most Effective: Allow your child to trade the checkmarks in for larger rewards. For example, tell your kids they can earn a trip to the park when they have five checkmarks. You also may want to consider using a token economy system.
  • Common Traps to Avoid: Don’t expect perfection. Your child will make mistakes. Continue to be encouraging and let them know that while they may not have achieved their goal this time, they can try again next time.

A Word From Verywell

Motivating kids to modify their behavior, take on more responsibility, or learn a new skill is not an easy task. But by using different charts you can provide structure and reinforce the behaviors you want to see from your kids.

Just make sure you develop your charts with your kids in mind. Be flexible and invite them to participate in the process. If they don't buy into using a chart, your efforts won't be successful. So make sure you discuss the idea with them before you spend a lot of time creating something that may not motivate them.

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