Why don’t you just do what I ask? This is phrase that all of us have either heard or have said at some point in our lives. This kind of back and forth conversation can be extremely frustrating for both parties. In a Haitian household (as in many other cultures, I’m sure), there wasn’t a negotiation between me and parents. It was more like: you will do what I ask (immediately) or suffer the consequences. The consequences were usually a belt to my butt or the nearest object thrown at me, with perfect aim. Nowadays, with so many effective, proven strategies and parents being worn out from raising several kids, there are easier and much less taxing solutions to getting your child to do what you ask. A behavior chart is an excellent way to gain compliance from your child.
Music clip by Teeyah
Using Clear Language
When creating a behavior chart for your child, be specific. Avoid phrases that can be left to interpretation. Meaning: A child’s understanding of directions and language can differ from what you really mean; especially for children who have learning or speech delays.
When you say, “clean up your room before you use the tablet”; what does that mean to the child? Does that mean pick up (some or all of) the toys on the floor or simply straighten up blankets on the bed, pick up the dirty laundry, clean up any food plates or wrappers?
Does your child understand exactly what you mean when you say clean up your room?
Do YOU understand exactly what you mean? Are you clear in your expectations for yourself and what you’d like to see happen? The type of clear directions you provide should be based on your expected outcome and what is acceptable to you- in your household.
- When you tell them “Pick up all the toys from the floor”. Where should they put them?
- Shove them under the bed
- Put them on top of the bed in a messy pile
- Or does that mean pick up the toys, books, etc. from the floor and put them back on the shelf, or in a basket or other designated spot in the room?
- When you tell them to “clean up the laundry”. Does that mean:
- Pick up the dirty laundry and put them in the hamper
- Fold clean clothes and leave them in a pile
- Put clean clothes away in dresser drawers and hang clothes in closet
If you tell a child to do something like clean up their room. Give them a specific time frame. It is not enough to say, “before you use go outside and play”. This could mean that the child can play with toys, watch TV or engage in other leisure activities for long periods of time before they comply with directions. They might not even want to go outside and are perfectly happy to stay in and play. They might “listen and say ‘ok’” thinking that they’ll clean their room before bed. But you mean, clean your room within the hour, before dinner time or bath time.
Identify the Behavior to Change
Bring attention to the positive (replacement behavior) and don’t highlight the negative (talk about their bad behavior). Same message, different approach.
For example- Instead of saying “stop coloring on the walls, it ruins the paint!” Say “color on the paper so we can keep your drawings”. This helps to strengthen their abilities to perform (behave better) and do the things you want. Children are generally happier when their parents are happy and proud of them. In this example, coloring on paper so you will keep their drawings will make them feel proud and creative, as opposed to diminishing their creativity by scolding them and making them feel like they’re ruining your home.
Positive phrases for turning unwanted behavior into desired behavior
- “Tell the truth” (instead of “Don’t lie”)
- “Speak with kind words -pay someone a compliment” (instead of “You’re so mean; you’re a brat”)
- “You can run outside or go play on the trampoline” (instead of “Stop being so wild”)
- “Share your toys” (instead of “don’t be selfish”)
- “Remember to use manners and say please and thank you (instead “Don’t be so rude”)
Trouble with Routines:
Not all children engage in “bad” behavior. Some simply have trouble following routines and often forget steps in completing tasks that are important and non-negotiable-like completing homework routine, bedtime routine, getting ready for school in the morning. You can use a behavior chart to identify the steps they need to perform and each time they complete all the steps for that day they can earn a reward. For example, the following tasks would earn the child a reward (they are all related to school)
- Bring home your agenda book from school
- Carry home all materials required to complete homework
- Take home dirty gym clothes
- Bring home dirty lunchbox
- Carry home papers needed to be signed by parents (e.g. permission slips)
When creating a behavior chart, the type of rewards you offer must be based on what the child actually wants. If the child has easy access to their preferred things or doesn’t consider it a favorite activity, they’ll have no motivation to comply with directions. Chose things that they don’t get a lot of access to!
Start with motivating things they can access daily that will correspond with the long -term goal (i.e. good behavior for the week). This will help them feel empowered and increase compliance and motivation to keep up the good work:
Short term rewards-can access daily
- Chose items and activities that you can offer for a good day
- Stickers on the chart
- Extra screen time at the end of the day (10-20-30 minutes)
- Extra dessert
- Stay up 20 -30 minutes later than usual bedtime
Long term rewards- can access within a week’s time
- Pick outings that you are able to afford and can easily access on a weekly basis:
- See a movies
- Go out to eat to a favorite restaurant
- Buy ice cream
- Get a manicure
- Visit a favorite person
- Purchase a new book
- Go to the park (with the big slide)
- Identify items (tangible rewards) that you can afford to purchase within the given time frame:
- You might not be able to buy a new X-BOX or play-station but-
- you can afford to download a new app on your phone or tablet
- Maybe going to the movies is too expensive for the family but-
- Movie night at home (they pick the movie and snacks)
- Maybe you can’t afford a mani/pedi day with your child, but you can
- Buy a new inexpensive nail polish color and spend time together painting the child’s nails
- You might not be able to buy a new X-BOX or play-station but-
If needed, you can establish clear consequences for unwanted behavior. Make sure the punishment fits the crime. Don’t over exaggerate and be reasonable! Meaning, if you want your child to do something, and they don’t, identify a “punishment” that is reasonable for you to instill and is not excessively more than what it should be.
- In the example of cleaning their room, if you set clear directions and they do not follow them within the given time frame, then limit their access to preferred activities they are usually able to access without the use of the behavior chart (i.e. watching TV or tablet time) until the room is clean.
Maybe instead of taking something away, you add something they have to do before they can access the things, they usually have access to:
- They have to clean their room and help clean up the kitchen for 1 night
- They have to clean their room and clean the dog poop in the yard for 1 night
- For behaviors like insulting others – have them write 1 paragraph describing a positive trait about a family member (My brother is such a fast runner. He is on the track team. He also plays lacrosse and his team won a big game last week.)
*Not all behavior charts and plans need a consequence. It might be enough to offer your child something extra that will help motivate them to make the change. But, if the consequence is something they don’t like and will not want to do, this is an effective strategy.
Keeping Track of the Behaviors
When designing a behavior chart and or contract, determine how you will easily keep track of the behaviors you do and do not want to see. Use visuals! Make sure these are seen by the child and you all the time. Place the chart in an area in your home that you walk by often; hanging on fridge or wall in the kitchen or living room; on the child’s bedroom door.
*Bright or colorful charts help to bring attention and are used as a visual reminder.
- Set up a weekly schedule and for each day of the week, mark when they have performed the desired and undesired behavior
- Use a sticker chart and reward them with stickers for each time they perform the desired behavior. At the end of the day or end of the week, if they’ve earned enough stickers, they get the reward
- You can use a checklist of chores or routines that they must accomplish every day to earn their reward (this is used for children who have trouble following routines and often forget steps in completing tasks that are important and non-negotiable-
Steps to Complete a Behavior Chart
- First and foremost, you must get buy-in from your child and they must agree to the behavior plan! You have to offer them things as rewards that 1- they want, 2- they don’t get access to regularly.
- Identify the behaviors for change: BE SPECIFIC!!!!
- Create a system
- Create the chart and decide how often you are going to track the behaviors. (daily, 2x per day -for morning and afternoon routines, track behavior weekly, monthly, etc.)
- How will you note /identify the behavior occurred– check marks, stickers, etc.
- When will they access the reward or consequence– at the end of the day, end of the week, end of the month)
- Determine rewards and consequences (if needed)
- Have all parties involve sign the behavior chart- this is a type of contract and everyone involved has to be involved!
- Make sure that everyone in the family is aware of the behavior plan even if they are not directly involved. For example- If you don’t explain the plan to grandma, and she comes over with the child’s favorite ice cream as a special treat (and you are using ice cream as a reward), that will sabotage the effectiveness of the plan (at least for that day).
- Place behavior chart in a location in the home that is visible to everyone
- Make adjustments to the chart as needed– sometimes, what works one week, will not work the next. Make sure to re-evaluate your child’s preference to keep motivation high
- Be consistent – don’t allow access to the rewards on the chart arbitrarily. They must be held contingent upon the behavior otherwise your child won’t have the motivation to keep up the good work if they realize that sometimes they get the rewards without having to do or change anything.
- Take a breath and pat yourself on the back for a job well done.
Behavior change takes a long time, have patience.