5 Tips To Help You Use A Behaviour Chart…Correctly


Parenting: How To Use A Behaviour Chart


Rewards can be more powerful than words

Rewards can be more powerful than words

Behaviour charts are an extremely effective strategy for improving behaviour, but there’s so much misinformation about how to use behaviour charts that many parents find charts ineffective.

There are a number of ways to get it wrong. Working on too many goals at once, using rewards that aren’t meaningful, rewarding positive behaviour inconsistently, and infrequent rewards are just a few of the more common pitfalls.

Here are our tips for successfully using behaviour charts to improve your child’s behaviour.

Tip #1: Set a Behaviour Goal

Make sure your behaviour goal is developmentally appropriate for your child. If your expectations are too high your child won’t be able to succeed no matter how hard they try. When setting goals, make sure they’re specific and only work on one or two goals at a time – for example, keep your hands and feet to yourself, sleep in your own in bed – working on too many goals at once will mean your child will have trouble remembering their goals and you’ll fail to reward target behaviours each and every time they occur.

Tip #2: Make a Behaviour Chart

You can download behaviour charts from the internet or you can make a table which has the days of the week as columns, and a separate row for each behaviour goal. Your chart doesn’t need to be complicated but your child is more likely to feel ownership over their goals if they’re responsible for decorating the behaviour chart. Hang the chart somewhere where it’s visible.

Tip #3: Choose Rewards

Rewards are only effective if they’re meaningful, so get your child’s input about the rewards they’d like to work towards. On a piece of paper list/draw 5-10 rewards that your child can chose from. Make sure that you’re happy with everything on this list – changing your mind at the last minute will undermine the entire process and make the chart ineffective.

For younger children, rewards should ideally be things that can be given within 24-hours of your child earning the right number of stickers because delayed rewards reduce the effectiveness of behaviour charts. If there is a reward that your child really wants but it’s something that can only happen on a weekend, make a coupons for the activity that your child can ‘cash-in’ at the weekend. Rewarding your child with a coupon will preserve the effectiveness of the behaviour chart.

Rewards don’t have to be things you can buy for your child. Other rewards might be: baking with mum, special time with dad, a special food treat, a play date, time at the park, picking what’s for dinner, 15-minutes extra TV, etc. Whatever the reward, make sure you follow through and hold up your end of the agreement or your child will lose interest in the process.

Tip #4: Decide How Frequently You’ll Reward Behaviour

Reward your child with a sticker or tick every time they meet their goal. Once your child has earned a pre-determined number of stickers/ticks, reward them with a reward off their reward list.

If your behaviour goal is to not do something for example – “keep your hands and feet to yourself”, the frequency with which you reward positive behaviour will depend on how frequently the problem behaviour is occurring. For example, if your child is demonstrating aggressive behaviour a few times each hour then you will need to reward your child every hour initially. If the problem behaviour is less frequent, say once or twice per day, you can offer a sticker reward either twice daily (e.g. lunchtime, end of day) or just at the end of the day.

For a reward chart to work, your child needs to be able to earn a reward within the first 3-5 days so make rewards contingent on a smaller number of stickers to start with. As your child is successful, gradually increase the number of stickers they need to earn to earn a reward. Continue to do this until rewards have been phased out, but continue to reward the target behaviour intermittently with praise.

Tip #5: Explain How the Chart Will Work

Explaining how the chart will work, including how many stickers your child will have to earn to earn a reward and what they have to do to earn a sticker. When you’re explaining behavioural goals, be specific. If your target behaviour is ‘good listening’ be specific about what this means. For example, say “good listening means listening to what mum and dad ask you to do. So if we ask you to come to the dinner table and you stop what you’re doing to come like we’ve asked, that would be good listening. If we have to ask you a number of times to come to the dinner table before you actually come, that would not be good listening”. The more specific you are about your expectations the more likely it is that your child will be successful.

Dr. Sarah Hughes is a clinical psychologist and the founder of Think Clinical Psychologists. She enjoys working with children, adolescents, and adults, and specialises in anxiety, depression, postnatal depression, eating disorders, self-harm, and challenging behaviour.


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