You feel like you’re at the end of your parenting rope. Your kids aren’t listening or doing their chores, and every time you remind them to take care of their responsibilities they backtalk. You’re not alone. Parents everywhere face these struggles with their children. Perhaps you have read about behavior charts and behavior modification programs and wonder if they will work for your kids. Before you pull out the poster-board, stickers, or marker chips for a behavior chart or start in on a behavior modification plan, take a step back and make a plan.
What is a Behavior Log?
Behavior modification charts aren’t valuable tools if you don’t begin with a goal, and knowing what your goal needs to be depends on the behaviors you wish to see changed. Whether you are trying to stop a negative behavior or trying to instill positive behaviors, begin with a behavior log. Think of it almost like a diary. Your behavior log will be where you record the behaviors of your children so that you can see any patterns or environmental influences that need to be addressed.
- Create a log with the days of the week and 5 or fewer behaviors you wish to track. These might be disobeying rules, displaying poor table manners, back-talking, pulling a siblings hair, or failing to brush her teeth. The behaviors don’t have to be monstrous in scope – all of the small, negative behaviors are what add up to family frustrations.
- Each time your child exhibits a negative behavior, such as back-talking, on the list, record it for the day along with any notes about the circumstances.
- If you are trying to encourage new behaviors, such as your tween putting his laundry away without being prodded to do so, make notes about how many reminders you have to give him before he will do it and anything that appears to be standing in his way (TV, friends, sports, etc.).
- Don’t change your behaviors and reactions during this time. You are trying to clarify what is not working and how the dynamics of the family and home might be contributing, so now is not the time to experiment with new consequences or rules.
- Record your actions and reactions in the situations. If you yell at your child to stop hitting his brother, track your own reactions so that you can see the patterns of how your methods are or aren’t working.
- Keep the log private. Your child might feel on the defensive if she knows you are recording her behaviors like you are on a super spy mission. This log is to help you plan ahead and set goals, not keep a naughty list.
After about 2 weeks, review the behavior logs and make assessments. Maybe the behaviors you thought were the most disruptive actually occurred the least often. Perhaps you see a pattern of bad behaviors related to environmental influences that will need to be addressed. When I took an assessment of behaviors in my home I found that for some of my children, the morning was the time of greatest stress for them, and also the time when they were most likely to misbehave or fail to follow through with their responsibilities. For two of my kids, bed time routines were most challenging. Since I was feeling stress at both points during the day, it was good for me to clearly realize the stress was coming from the distinct reactions that two children had for morning routines, and the other two for evening routines.
The behavior log is an important first step because it lets you really see what types of behaviors you want to change within your family. You can now set goals for behavior modification. However, keep in mind that the current behaviors didn’t develop overnight. They don’t call them bad habits for nothing – habits are formed over repeated actions. New actions can take as long as 3-6 weeks to work on before they become more natural parts of better behaviors.