You want to change your child’s behavior? You’re tired of the fighting. The sassy voice. The refusal to pick up toys. If you’re hoping to positively gain more cooperation from your child, you can try a smiley chart for behavior.
If you’re new here, you might not know this about me. I used to be so arrogant about parenting. Really.
I started my teaching career in the inner-city in Los Angeles. It was a high-poverty and high-crime area; my students brought a lot of trauma with them. Several of my fifth and sixth grade students had significant behavioral challenges. But I was good at managing them and I loved it. I thought I had all the tricks to get my own children to behave.
Facepalm. I was so foolish.
Lately one of my children has been having some, um, challenging behavior. When this child faces a number of difficult situations, this child screams like pterodactyl.
The great thing is my husband and I practice Collaborative Problem Solving (more below). We say things like, “Hey I saw when you needed to give someone a turn, that was tough. What’s going on?” So my child is actually really skilled at saying what’s wrong and can respond with things like “I worried someone take my toys.”
But all these conversations still wasn’t helping us generate a solution for my child’s concern or my concern. Meanwhile, this behavior had become a bit of a bad habit. Other kids would give in when my child screamed.
So we gave a Smiley Chart for Behavior at home a try. And it’s definitely helping my child improve the behavior.
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Positive Reinforcement is Behavioral Conditioning
A smiley chart is a form of positive reinforcement. B.F. Skinner developed the theories around behavioral conditioning. Essentially, you’re training your child to respond and behave in a certain way.
If you’re a fan of another parenting style, that’s cool. This post might not be for you. This strategy might not work for your family, and it certainly only applies to limited situations.
As I mentioned above, we use Collaborative Problem Solving with our children. When our children are experiencing challenging behavior in predictable way, we dig into conversations with them to identify what is their concern in a situation. It’s not always about what my husband or I think, so we really need to be open minded. Then we share our concerns and we work together to find a solution.
If you’re interested in learning more about Collaborative Problem Solving, read Raising Human Beings by Ross Greene. It is one of my top three favorite parenting books.
Even though we value working collaboratively with our children, I believe there is a time and place for conditioning certain behaviors. Some behaviors are just plain old habits or emerging skills.
Potty training? Oh yes, we gave an M&M each time. And we phased out the rewards as my children developed competence with the habits and skills. Neither of my kids ask for an M&M anymore after they go potty.
I use behavioral conditioning with myself for developing habits, too. I want to remember to do my physical therapy exercises, so I get a check mark on my to-do list in my planner. I want to get more sleep, so I work on the habit of leaving my phone in the kitchen and then I reward myself by reading in bed.
Behavioral conditioning is not the only strategy nor is the best strategy. It is just another tool in the parenting toolbox. It can definitely be helpful and effective when done correctly.
Smiley Chart Basics
A Smiley Chart for Behavior is simply a chart where you identify and positively recognize when a person completes a desired behavior.
It has delineated spots for the target behavior and a set number of blank smiley faces. It communicates the expectation to your child in a visual way. You simply draw a smiley every time a child completes the positive behavior until your child earns the 5 smiley faces.
Before You Use a Smiley Chart
You need to put in some thought and put on your detective cap before begin to use a Smiley Chart for Behavior
1. Identify the undesired behavior
I read things like this all the time in parenting Facebook groups. This is the easiest step and where most people just get stuck: “He’s screaming and it’s disruptive and it needs to stop.”
True. But we really need to dig deeper to get the behavior to change.
2. Identify what the lagging skill is
A lot of times with children, we’re tempted to just say, “Oh he is stubborn,” or “She just wants to get her way.” But we have to dig deeper and see what missing skills are driving the challenging behavior.
For my child, I realized these were lagging skills:
- taking a turn with a toy,
- understanding a spatial boundary for which toys are currently “theirs” (as opposed to all the toys at school or home being “theirs”),
- managing social anxiety when in close proximity to another child,
- coping with anxiety over when someone might “steal” the toy.
Just saying “don’t scream” and “use a kind voice” won’t work to build these underlying skills.
3. Make a plan on how you’ll teach the appropriate skills
This is totally separate from the Smiley Chart for Behavior. You need to think about how you can work on the missing skills with your child. Remember, learning to behave in a socially-appropriate way is a skill just like brushing teeth, or learning the alphabet or how to ride a bike.
If your kid hasn’t mastered these social or emotional skills, it’s okay. There is a lot of social stigma because most people don’t understand that neurologically, behavior is a set of skills, too.
Your child is still learning to behave in a socially appropriately just like they might still struggle to use scissors, write their name, or tie their shows. Social skills and emotional skills are that – skills – and you can work on them!
With my child, we’re working on playing next to him with his chosen toys in a specific spatial boundary, and then my husband and I attempt to take his toys from him. When he protests, we give him the words, “I’m still playing with that.” Or, “you can take a turn later.” He repeats the words and we continue to play.
It’s not a fast fix, but in parenting and teaching, there aren’t many fast fixes.
4. Be clear on what the desired behavior is
You need to be very clear on the one thing you want your child to work on doing. For us, it is use a friendly voice to make a request.
So we don’t do anything on the Smiley Chart for Behavior about using safe hands or sharing a toy. That’s not the focus. We’re just looking for a kind and calm voice.
Using a Smiley Behavior Chart at Home
Here the breakdown on how you’ll use the behavior chart at home.
First, grab some supplies:
Then follow these easy steps:
- Print out the Smiley Chart for Behavior
- Decide if you’re going to offer a reward or not. Choose the appropriate printable.
- Fill in the behavior you are looking for: “I can use a friendly voice. Or I can wash my hands. Or I can listen the first time.”
- Fill in the reward if desired.
- Laminate or place inside a plastic sheet protector on a clipboard.
- Use washable dry erase markers to make a smiley face each time your child does the desired behavior.
- Wipe off the chart and use again the next day.
Note: don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. You can always print out more copies if you don’t have the supplies.
Recapping Smiley Behavior Charts
Here’s the recap for busy parents:
- Positive reinforcement is a type of behavioral conditioning.
- A smiley chart can positively reinforce a very specific behavioral habit.
- Behavior charts do not teach skills nor do they address the underlying missing skills.
- You need to make a plan to teach your child any missing skills.
- Smiley charts reinforce a positive behavior and increase the frequency of the desired behavior.
- A smiley chart can have an external reward (like “I watch a cartoon”) but it doesn’t have to have a reward.
- You need to be very specific with the positive behavior you desire.
A smiley behavior chart won’t solve all your child’s behavioral challenges. It can be a useful tool for encouraging and reinforcing a positive behavior in a tangible way. Try the Smiley Chart for Behavior and leave a comment below.