Brush your teeth. Clean your room. Put your laundry away. Feed the pets. Share toys with your baby brother. There are endless streams of behaviors and actions parents want to see from their kids and behavior charts can be an effective way to encourage and establish positive routines. However, all of those efforts can be washed down the parenting drain if you follow these 5 ways to ruin behavior charts for your kids (and yourself).
1. Offer Sky High Rewards
If you offer tickets to the movies for making their beds for a week, what do you have to ante up if they clean the bathroom for a month? One of the easiest ways to sabotage your own efforts with motivation charts for your kids is to make the stakes too high. I’ve been there before – you are just so eager to have your kids take on the responsibility that the idea of something beyond gold stars becomes like a grand master plan. Intrinsic motivation – that voice inside of you that tells you that doing something is good simply because it works – doesn’t respond well to movie tickets or grand prizes. The magic of those rewards fades quickly and kids are often learning just how to get more, rather than how to get more out of life.
- Emphasize that the reward of the motivation chart is simply completing the goal – and you can mark steps to that goal with gold stickers, blue check marks, or other simple symbols that mark progress.
- If you want to offer small tokens of appreciation for jobs well done, mix it up and surprise your kids when they have completed the tasks successfully instead of dangling them as bait.
2. Ignore the Charts
If you create a motivation chart, explain to your daughter how it works, and then walk away – you should’ve just saved the paper and not done it at all. Even though motivation charts are supposed to help make things easier and help teach your children to be more independent and responsible, they often still require some involvement from you. If you have a 4-year-old you’re trying to get into the habit of brushing her own teeth, getting dressed on her own, and independently taking her dirty laundry to the hamper, you can’t just hang up the behavior chart and leave the rest to her. Habits are formed over time and the first commitment you need to make to a behavior chart is your own.
- Place the chart where you both will remember to use it – at the height that is appropriate for your child.
- Establish a routine for the time of day when you expect the chart to be used (and when you’ll remember to double check the chart).
- If you notice your child hasn’t completed the activities from the chart, a simple reminder of “Are you ready to check your goals on the chart?” is sometimes all it takes.
3. Make The Goals Too Complicated
Behavior charts are designed to make life easier, encouraging kids to build independence and strengthen desired behaviors. If your chart needs a code to decipher and you include everything from making the bed to mowing the lawn on Fridays and completing 8 hours of homework each week – your chart might just be too overwhelming to work well.
- Select 3 goals that are valuable to your child and your family and use these as the focus for your motivation charts.
- Consider one chart for school related items, another for basic home responsibilities.
4. Use Charts that Highlight Division Among Siblings
If they are not used carefully, behavior charts in families with more than one child can be giant signs that read “Billy needs to work harder than anyone else!” While not every child in every family will respond to behavior charts in the same way, no child in the family should feel singled out among siblings to be the one with the chart.
- Consider a family chart, where every member in the family has one or two tasks or goals to reach each week. When the family succeeds, the family can all celebrate together – dinner out, a picnic at the park, etc.
- Meet with each child separately and make two selections together for the chart – one goal you see needs more attention, another goal your child sees as a priority. This way everyone is included with the chart and it can foster teamwork.
5. Use Behavior Charts when They Just Aren’t Working
Behavior charts are very visual – but not every child is a visual learner. Not every child will positively react to a desired behavior being visually listed on the wall. It might be stressful or simply inconsequential. Parenting is about finding what works for your kids so that your family can be successful and peaceful.
- If your child is an auditory and verbal learner, set aside time each day to talk about goals and have a check-in to make sure she is on track. This is different from reminding and nagging – this should be a time when you peacefully come together to review the plan, or maybe is just your child coming to you and telling you the things she accomplished that day.
- If your child learns best through tangible experiences, try a new approach. If the goal is to get your son to dress himself each morning, instead of listing that on the chart, help him set his clothes out the night before in a visible location so that in the morning he knows where he put his clothes and has them in his sights. Create an environment where the things he needs to accomplish his tasks are within his reach and a part of his other behaviors (the laundry hamper can have a basketball hoop over it, teeth brushing can include a sand timer he gets to turn over, etc.).
If you decide to use a motivation or behavior chart, set yourself and your children up for success by avoiding these 5 pitfalls. And check out these other ideas for behavior charts that can make parenting a little easier, and your home a little happier.