Behavior Chart

My Breaking Point

Last week, I reached my bad behavior breaking point. My kids were fighting with each other over everything. I told them that they were going to bed early and that was the beginning of one of my son’s EPIC tantrums. My son started refusing to go and the more I insisted, the faster things escalated. Before I knew it, we were both yelling and the whole point of the punishment was lost. Instead of serving as a deterrent to bad behavior, it actually became a catalyst. I knew I had to try something different.

The next day, I went do the dollar store and picked out a simple dry erase calendar. When the kids got home from camp, I explained that we were going to use the new behavior chart. They were going to be responsible for their behavior and whether or not they would earn rewards.

Reward System Skepticism

I was always skeptical of behavior charts, despite how well they seemed to work for my son at school because I was terrified it would create a sense of entitlement in my kids. I was afraid that it would become all about cheap dollar store prizes and instead of understanding that good behavior is expected it would become something that warranted accolades. I didn’t want my kids to grow up to be adults who thought respect needed to be rewarded. I want respect, kindness, and courtesy to be something that they just do automatically like brushing their teeth.

It’s All About the Smile

While my punishments – timeouts or going to bed early temporarily worked for my daughter, they definitely did not improve my son’s behavior. Now we’ve been charting their behavior with simple faces with the kids’ initials next to them.

A smiley face means they had a great day without doing anything that would normally warrant a punishment. A regular face (represented by a face with a straight line for a mouth) means that they did okay. They weren’t misbehaved, but perhaps had some moments where they needed to be redirected several times or weren’t listening as well as they should have. A frowny face means they were not good listeners and didn’t change their behavior after they were warned.

“Magic” Marker Indeed!

I know it’s only been one week, but the change I’ve seen in my kids’ behavior feels like a miracle. My son had one regular face when we first started and they’ve both been great ever since. There have been no frowny faces for either of them. There has been very little fighting between them, and whenever one of them has a stinky attitude or is tempted to slip into selfish behavior that would have typically escalated into fighting, all I have to say is that they are headed toward a normal face and if they continue on it will be a frowny face. So far, we’ve never gotten to a frowny face because just the reminder of their status on the behavior chart seems to get them right back on track. They very quickly turn their behavior around without further warning.

Who knew the key to peace in my house would be found in a little smiley face? My son will even ask me about his status during the day. I usually give a warning, giving them a chance to change their behavior before I demote their status on the chart. They always start with a smiley face and just need to work to keep it. I’m a big believer in giving them a chance to change. After all, we all have days where we’re tired or frustrated and have stinky attitudes.

Limiting Zoned Out TV Viewing

As far as rewards go, I DO NOT want my house overflowing with dollar store toys so they earn things I consider extras. My kids could spend hours watching Minecraft videos on YouTube because we don’t have the game. After seeing how they zombie out in front of these videos I thought this would be a great reward. They love the videos, but I don’t want them to spend hours a day watching them so if they have a smiley face the day before they can watch one video the next day. It’s a win for both of us.

I also promised them water guns for having a week with no frowny faces. My secret is that I was going to buy them anyway because their camp is having a Super Soaker day in a few weeks, but this way they had the satisfaction of earning them. They were so proud of themselves and grateful to get the water guns.

Jay with water gun


Refining the Rewards

I’m still coming up with rewards as I go. I would like to come up with special treats that don’t involve toys or computer time. I want to come up with special outings they can do with either mommy or daddy. With three kids it can get difficult to spend one-on-one time with them so I think this will be a fantastic way to make sure we get that time together. If I let them plan the outing I think it will make it that much more special and they’ll work really hard to earn it.

You can set up your chart however you like. Some families have a point system and some give out play money to reward good behavior. I just kept it very simple because I didn’t want to keep track of points or dollars. Three face choices was the simplest system I could think of and I’m amazed at how well it’s working.

Behavior charts have vastly improved my behavior as well. I no longer press for good behavior like I did before. I simply remind them that their behavior is within their control. They can turn their attitude around or they can choose not to and risk losing a special reward at the end of the week.

Making Them Work out Their Own Disputes

Hannah and Jay had a disagreement over what show to watch on TV the other day. In the past, this had the potential to escalate into yelling or even a physical altercation between them. Instead of trying to deescalate the situation myself I simply said, if you want to keep your smiley faces today you need to figure a way to work it out nicely. Sure enough, they figured a way to work it out themselves.

Bringing out the Best Mom In Me

I’m a much more relaxed person now that I don’t have to raise my voice. When I’m less frustrated, I have the right frame of mind to ask questions about why they have a bad attitude and we’re able to navigate and deal with their feelings instead of having them blow up. Who knew a simple behavior chart could turn me into the mom I always wanted to be!

Do you do behavior charts with your children? If so, share your favorite incentives.

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama is the author of “So, You’re Broke? 18 Drama-Free Steps To A Richer Life.” She can be found writing for The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not busy caring for her three adorable kiddos. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.