The complaining, the arguing, the sassy voices? Have your children ever pushed your buttons until you finally snap? In a fit of anger, you banished them to their rooms forever. Do you wish you could find another way to help your children manage their behavior?
When small infractions build up, parents can lose their minds. You’re normal if you feel this way. And it is hard to teach children to manage their own behavior; you can try to dole out consequences all day long but often that doesn’t teach your child what you want him to do.
When teaching second grade, I used a behavior chart to help my students learn to manage their behavior in class. It was so successful, a few moms told me they created them to use at home. Now that I’m a parent, I realized we had the need for a family behavior chart as well.
I’ve started using this at home with my children too, and we’re seeing lots of great results. This one simple tool can help your children manage their behavior at home.
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Behavior Chart Basics
You can grab this free printable behavior chart here. Since you’ll use this frequently, you’ll want to print it on sturdy cardstock and laminate it. I think my Scotch PRO Thermal Laminator is excellent. You can also laminate at office stores, printing shops, or try self-sealing pouches that don’t require a laminator.
It has five sections starting from top to bottom. Purple is outstanding choices. Blue is great choices. Green is good day. Yellow is time for a better choice. Red is stop and think.
Each child (and maybe the parents, too) get a clothespin with his or her name written on it. The clothespins start on green or GOOD DAY every morning and move up and down according to how your child responds to the rules.
Rules to Help Your Children Manage Behavior
In order for a behavior chart to be effective, you need to be clear about your family rules. The chart will not work if you randomly decide to enforce different rules at different times in an arbitrary way.
The second page in the free printable behavior chart is a blank template for your family rules. Think carefully about what values are most important for you and which rules you want and need to enforce.
I recommend no more than five rules. You want your children to be successful in the long run and too many will overwhelm everyone. These are my family’s rules:
- Use a friendly voice.
- Listen to directions.
- Have a safe body.
- Ask permission.
Why Charts Help Children Manage Behavior
When used correctly, behavior charts can be an extraordinarily easy and effective tool to shape children’s behavior.
Discipline tool not a punishment
A lot of people use discipline as a synonym for punishment, but it’s not. Discipline means teaching. When we discipline our children we teach them about their behavior.
Ultimately, I want my child to have moral, ethical behavior as adults. I want them to make good choices out of consideration for others not because they are afraid of punishments.
This tool has no consequences or loss of privileges embedded in it. There are times when that will be appropriate in your family, but it’s not the purpose of this tool. So quit threatening to take away the iPad and instead just show your child that he has made a poor choice that breaks the family rules.
Visuals like this behavior chart remain in the brain’s memory longer that words. According to Psychology Today, “the part of the brain used to process words is quite small in comparison to the part that processes visual images.” Simply put, your child has a lot more brain power to deal with pictures than with your words.
If you want your child to learn to manage their behavior, using a visual chart is a simple way to support them. Your child will internalize the family rules and how to correct behavior much more quickly with a visual than with words.
(Read more about why visuals work here.)
Behavior charts make everyone accountable
Using a visual behavior chart holds both children and parents accountable. First, it is a way to hold child accountable for their actions without loads of punishments or unnecessary work for parents.
Second, parents have to be consistent. Instead of arbitrarily enforcing unclear rules with excessive punishments (Go to your room! No screen time!), the rules are explicit and the natural consequences are clear (your pin is moved down to yellow or red).
Similarly, since it’s easy to implement, you’re more likely to stick with it.
As soon as a child makes a positive or negative choice, you can move their clothespin accordingly. You can even ask your child to move their own pins if you feel it’s appropriate.
Here’s the danger: Don’t use it as a threat. Just move the pin. DO NOT say, “If you keep doing that I’ll move your pin.” Just move the pin. The point is to give your child feedback.
You don’t need to threaten consequences you have no intention of carrying out. You’re showing your child immediately in a visual way what type of choice it was – negative or positive. This will teach most children how to correct their behavior without the need for punishment.
Understand they can correct mistakes
Everyone has bad behavior. You’ve cursed someone in traffic. You’ve picked a fight with your spouse. You’ve yelled at your children in a way that makes you ashamed. You make mistakes. Same with your children – the difference is they are even more neurologically prone to bad behavior choices.
Children can’t moderate their choices internally the same way adults can. Like if I snap at or pick a fight with my husband, eventually my internal empathy gets triggered and I realize I need to apologize and use a kinder voice in my next several interactions.
Children haven’t developed this ability to think abstractly about other people’s feelings. So we need to teach them in a explicit manner.
Similarly, with a behavior chart, children can learn to avoid the shame cycle that can occur when they are overcorrected for behavior choices. In this chart, the children can see the effects of their positive choices after negative choices. This helps our kids who tend to be all-or-nothing thinkers: “I’m a bad girl” my child has said when she’s made a poor choice. This chart can help correct that thinking.
I like the book I Can Handle It for many reasons. One important reason is the narrator makes a bad decision and then realizes there are ways he can correct it.
Makes choices explicit
When children have their clothespin moved up or down, the effects of their behavior choices are explicit. The choice is isolated in that moment and it demonstrates the power of choices.
The book What Should Danny Do? has really helped my daughter understand that she has the ability to make choices in many situations. As we’ve read the book repeatedly, her ability to see choices has developed considerably.
Recognizes positive behavior
This chart also has positive sections: Good Day, Great Choice, and Outstanding Choices. This gives you an easy opportunity and your child a tangible way to recognize positive choices.
For example, when my child makes a request in a pleasant voice instead of a sassy or whiny voice, I simply say, “Thanks for the friendly voice. I’m moving your pin up.”
We don’t overpraise for following a rule, but we recognize the behavior we want to see.
Everyone makes mistakes with our behavior. We have parent-fail days where we yell. But this chart demonstrates to children that they can fail and try again a few minutes later.
Very few mistakes are irreversible. The belief that mistakes can be corrected is the hallmark to resilience. And resilience is paramount to adult success.
Help your children manage behavior
I’m using a clipboard and that way it this chart is portable. If you’re playing in the backyard, you can demonstrate to your children more immediately when they are breaking a family rule or following a family rule if the chart is on a clipboard.
However, heavy duty magnet clips work to hang it the fridge as well.
Print this chart out, decide on your family rules and start helping your children manage their behavior.