World’s best (and most effective!) behavior chart

Baby #3 will be arriving any day now, which will equate to a lot more chaos in my house.
3 Kids in 3 years? Yup, we might just be nuts.
These last few months I’ve really been trying to organize my life and get some good systems in place before baby comes. I created a behavior chart for my son that has – LITERALLY – changed my life, and thought it was about time to share it!
Here’s the background story…
My oldest child (we call him Hutch) just turned 3 last week. He is such a sweetheart, he really is a good, loving boy. We call him our tender heart because by nature he’s an obedient sweetie.
BUT…
He goes through phases where his behavior…well…
just plain sucks.
Unfortunately it can be for days, weeks, or even months at a time where he acts out.
He doesn’t listen, throws fits, says ‘no’ to everything, bugs his little sister, yells, has a stinky attitude,
the whole 9 yards.
 
I felt like it was an up-hill battle and that my only go-to was time-out,
which just wasn’t working.
I was losing my patience more and more with each day, and found myself raising my voice and having to follow up on every single threat I issued, which led to a vicious cycle of him being in trouble constantly. I felt like I was FORCING him to do good things, rather than him CHOOSING to do good things.
Not fun, not effective.
One day I was talking to my husband and said, “I just feel like all I do all day is punish him because it’s so hard to focus on catching the positive.”
And a lightbulb went off.
During one of his “phases” a positive act could be as simple as not saying “no” to something, handing me something the first time I ask him to hand it to me, or saying something even semi-nice to his sister. Simple things are hard to catch…so I decided to do something about it!
I stayed up late making the behavior chart that changed our lives!
Now, here’s my disclaimer…
It’s not pretty, but it’s pretty functional so have fun making yours MUCH cuter than mine!
Here’s how it works:
Take two clothes pins and decorate them all cute. I painted mine and added rhinestones to them. Every morning before breakfast I have my son choose which prize he would like to earn that day and we put a clip on it. It’s routine; I always say, “Hutch! What prize would you like to earn today?” and he looks forward to it every morning. Move the top clip to that prize square.
Start the second clip in the blank space between positive and negative consequences. Every time he does something positive throughout the day his clip moves up. If he reaches the last rectangle on the “happy face” (positive consequences) side, he earns the prize he chose at the top of the chart. Likewise, every time he does something naughty the clip moves down. So he could earn the prize at the top, but if he is a stinker at bedtime I can still move his clip down. The final consequence isn’t set until he wakes up the next morning.
So positive consequences are issued the next day, however, negative consequences are issued immediately. More info on this below.
 Every morning we run downstairs and see where his clips ended up yesterday, because that’s what he earns TODAY. Once we see what he earned from the day before, we issue the positive consequence. If he gets to the top and earns a prize then we set a time for that outing that day. We then put his clip back on the black spot to start over for that day, pick his prize that he wants to earn that day, then throughout the day I move his clip accordingly. We start over every day and it works great!
So, now that you know the basics…
Here’s how to do it:
  • The purpose of the chart is to focus on the POSITIVE behaviors in his day, encouraging him to CHOOSE to make the right choice…all on his own.
  • I grabbed a poster board I had in my crafting supplies that I got on clearance for $0.25. I folded it in half (hotdog-way) and cut it down the middle, making a long, skinny chart. He thought the chart was pretty cool because it has sports equipment on it. It makes it cluttered, but he enjoyed it so oh well :) Have your child help you decorate the board. It may not look perfect or even very pretty, but get them as involved as possible! Use pictures, stickers, glitter, etc.
  • You start off by sitting down with your child and choosing a list of prizes that they would like to earn. For my son, it was fun things that we tend to do semi-regularly because we have year passes, he’s free to get into, or they are cheap…BUT…he really enjoys them and loves the activities. The things we chose were:
    • Going to the aquarium (got a year pass for $11 from a local daily deal site),
    • Going to “Farm Country” or Dino Museum at Thanksgiving Point (also have a year pass there),
    • Going to an indoor trampoline arena (only $1.97 for him to jump for 1 hour),
    • Going to a sports game (we get tons of free games with a big Utah pass we bought),
    • Going to Dino Towne, the play-place at the mall (but the special treat was being able to ride the train one time around the mall, this is the most expensive option at $3 a ride). Sometimes we switch this out for a play-place at a fast food joint like McDonalds.
    • Getting ice cream somewhere (kid’s frosty’s at Wendy’s are $1 or less, Artic Circle gives out free kids cones, grocery stores like Macy’s often sell cheap soft-serve ice cream, and for us at Thanksgiving Point you can get huge soft-serve cones for $0.50 and kid’s cones are free).
    • Getting a new toy. I take him to the Dollar Store and let him pick out one toy or treat, getting to choose from the entire store.
Additional fun/cheap/free ideas:
    • Story time at the library
    • Going to the zoo, petting zoo, or even a pet store.
    • Play date with a friend of their choice.
    • Screen time on the computer or ipad
    • Going to a toy store to play with toys
    • Going swimming
    • Getting to stay up later than usual
    • Their favorite dinner – pizza, mac-n-cheese, whatever it is.
  • When choosing your prizes, try not to choose too many, but choose enough to add a nice variety.
  • Be sure to choose affordable, cheap, or free activities. Trust me…they don’t have to be elaborate, even for older kids! Just earning ANYTHING is exciting to them if YOU get excited about it, so don’t break the bank on this.
  • But, that being said…really try to let the child choose the prizes. You can suggest ideas and encourage certain affordable activities, but if they really want something, let them earn it! Just find a way to make it affordable/cheap/free for you.
  • Once you choose your prizes, make some squares at the top of your chart and write one prize on each square. I didn’t plan ahead for enough squares and had to double-up prizes on squares, but really, it doesn’t have to be perfect.
  • Once you’ve determined and labeled the prizes, work on the good consequences. Draw a smiley face with an up arrow to show what happens when they do something good.
  • Work with your child to come up with positive consequences. There should be more positive consequences than negative ones. Don’t do too many, but make it a challenge for them. 5-7 works well for us. Keep them basic! And feel free to rotate them out from time to time to keep things interesting.
  • Once you and your child choose the good consequences, put them on your board in progressive order, starting with the most basic consequence at the bottom. I call this the “positive zone”. Make the colors bright and pretty. Draw pictures if your child can’t read. Our consequences are:
    • Getting a good job sticker
    • Getting to choose a treat from a bucket of candy
    • Getting 3 books read to him at bedtime by mom or dad
    • Getting to watch TV in the morning (which is the only time we really let him watch TV. If he doesn’t earn it, no TV that day!)
    • Earning one of his special prizes at the top of his chart
  • Note about prizes: They only earn ONE prize each day. So if their clip makes it to “3 books at bedtime” then that’s the ONE prize they get the next day; not 3 books at bedtime, a treat, and a sticker. It’s only the one rectangle their clip lands on.
  • Do the same for negative consequences. I call this the “negative zone”. Have your child choose, and put them in progressive order. Once again, there should be more positive consequences than negative ones. Remember, the purpose of this chart is to celebrate POSITIVE behaviors! Make the colors dark and ugly, with the ugliest and darkest being the worst consequence. Pretty cute that his worst consequence is having his two beloved blankets taken away from him :) Oh, the sweet, simple mind of a child… Anyway, draw pictures if your child can’t read.
Remember…I never said I was an artist, people! :)
  • Each morning start with one clip in the space between positive and negative consequences. Throughout the day I move his clip up for ANYTHING positive he does. I usually only have to issue a warning about moving his clip down… “Hutch, please share with your sister. I would hate to have to move your clip down, you’ve almost earned your prize!”. Works like a champ.
  • However, don’t just threaten…don’t be afraid to move their clip down. It shouldn’t happen nearly as much as moving the clip up, but don’t be afraid to do it. Even if they make it all the way up to the “prize!” rectangle at the top of the “good side”, move it down if you need to.
  • The positive consequence isn’t set until they wake up the next morning. This took some trial and error to learn. I used to issue the prize right away. I’d say, “great job! You earned a treat!” and I’d give him the treat. Then he’d hit his sister and I’d have to move his clip down, and I’d think “dang it, but I already gave him a treat…”. Delayed gratification is the BEST tool here. Plus, we were having trouble with cooperating in going to bed and staying in bed, and this really helps.
  • However, negative zone consequences are carried out immediately. This also took some trial and error.  The reason they are carried out immediately is because often times you have to respond to the negative behavior immediately. If I waited until the next morning to put him in timeout, he wouldn’t remember what he did to earn it. But also, it’s mainly because you should rarely ever get into the “negative consequences” zone. If you’re using the chart correctly, they should be earning many more positive consequences than negative, so moving their clip down will simply drop them down a level within the positive zone.

So that’s it! Throughout the day move the clip up and down according to their behaviors, and hopefully they’ll make it to the top of the Positive Zone and keep it there so they can enjoy their big prize the next day!

Here are a few additional helpful tips:

  • Have them move their own clip or physically help you move their clip throughout the day. This encourages their participation and helps them keep track of where they are at all times. I’ll say, “Great job Hutch! I’m going to move your clip up! Let’s go move it and see if you’ve made it to yellow yet.”
  • Constantly remind them of the prize they are working to earn. “OH LOOK! You only have 3 more spaces then we get to go to the aquarium tomorrow! That will be so fun! Keep it up!” Be exaggerated and dramatic. It works, I promise. Whenever my son earns a prize I make a huge deal about it. “Priya! YAY! We get to go get ice cream with Hutch because he earned it for being such a good boy!” and when we get to the ice cream place, “one big ice cream for this big boy. He earned it on his behavior chart! We’re so proud of him!” usually the ice cream people get a big kick out of it.
  • Consider secretly not letting them earn their big prize every single day. If they are incredible that day and they truly earn it, by all means, let them earn it. But if they earn their prize at the top of the chart every day, they will get bored of it before too long and it won’t be much motivation any more. My son tends to earn his “prize” every other day or every 3 days.
  • Once again, refresh the prizes occasionally. Rotate them out to keep it fresh, new, and exciting for them – and you.
  • Be consistent. Do the chart every day, and be diligent about it. If you do it one day but forget the next, then do it 1/2 the day the next but then forget for a few days, it won’t work. I’ve been doing it nearly every day (we tend to relax about it on the weekends) for quite a while. It doesn’t get old, and it makes an enormous difference in his behavior because he knows exactly what to expect each day. Plus, we like to get out of the house and go do things a few times a week ANYWAY, so at least this way he’s “earning” it and it makes it much more special.
  • This chart can be used for many things: potty training, practicing music for their upcoming lesson, doing homework, doing chores, etc. The concept is the same, just adapt the chart to make it work for YOU!
To adapt this for multiple children:
  • Have them all chose a community prize or outing from the top of the chart each morning. They need to work together to decide the prize. If that doesn’t work, maybe draw the prize out of a hat or rotate turns as to who gets to choose that day.
  • Work as a family to come up with the positive and negative consequences so that they work for every child of every age. It’ll just have to be much more of a team effort.
  • Give each child their own clip, maybe laminate a picture of their face on it.
  • Move each child’s clip independently throughout the day. Only those who earn the prize, gets the prize. Harsh, but it’ll work!

To adapt this for older children/teens:

  • Just adapt the consequences accordingly, but otherwise everything else should be the same!
  • If they are much older like tweens or teens the consequences may cost more…like extra allowance, screen time, money to go to the movies with friends, etc. Just make them work much harder for the consequence, and maybe have it go over the space of a week. For example, every day they turn in all their homework their clip moves up. At the end of the week is when they would earn the prize.
Once again, this chart has really changed my life. Even though many of the prizes/outings are things we might’ve done anyway, the fact that he CHOOSES to earn them makes them much more rewarding…for him AND for me!
To see all the good times we have with our chart, follow #FCFbehaviorchart on instagram!

I encourage you to try it, and let me know if it works as well for you as it does for us! We have been doing this chart for a few months now and it STILL works just as well today as it did when we first started. Good luck, and happy clip-moving!
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Comments

  1. Becky B says

    Thanks! This is awesome! I’m thinking of using something like this for potty training too! Just bigger better prizes. Also not sure if you’ve heard of it, but The Child Whisperer has helped our family a TON with our kids.

  2. Christine says

    This is a great idea. Thank you! I have four kids, and just left the positive consequences and the negative consequences blank. They each have their own clothespin and are working toward one of 9 prizes and move up or down as yours do. I added things right on the chart that would make them move down (whining, arguing, fighting, complaining, etc.) and things that would make them move up (sharing, kindness, following directions cheerfully, etc.) I really like that this focuses on encouraging them to learn to choose good behavior.

Trackbacks

  1. […] World’s Best (and most effective) behavior chart by Fun Cheap or Free. I have a 2 1/2 year old. Need I say more? Haha. No but in all seriousness…. he is actually a pretty good little dude. For the most part, he is a good listener and is starting to get the hang of what’s “right and wrong” but it goes without saying that we definitely still have challenging days with him. Everybody has their own ways of disciplining their children and I respect everybody’s decision to do what they think is the best but in our house….we have opted to not spank our son. We have been doing “time-outs” with him since he was 1 year old and it seems to work but I think implementing something like this would actually be really useful so as soon as things settle down…I plan to get cracking with making something like this and seeing how it works! I will keep you guys updated on it! […]

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