Are There Benefits of Behavior Charts for Children?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 18, 2023
3 min read

A behavior chart is a type of reward system for keeping track of a kid's actions and choices that you like. It is one way to reinforce the good behavior a child displays and encourage patterns that you want the child to continue. This approach can help your child feel empowered and act as a positive reminder to behave in a certain way.

First, decide on the behavior that you plan to encourage with the chart. It is best to use positive language instead of words like "no," "don't," "stop," or "quit." Instead frame behaviors in a positive way. For example, "Brush your teeth," "Put books back on the shelf," or "Share toys with your brother," are clear and positive behaviors. Behavior charts can help with potty training, bedtime routines, mealtimes, and more.

Next, decide on the ultimate reward that your kid will earn when they achieve a certain number of stickers. Make sure that this is something they're excited about and motivated to work towards. Ensure that the number of stickers they need to earn is a reasonable number and that the reward is something you're willing to stick to. Good examples include a new book, a new toy (under a certain price point), or an activity that your child is excited about (going to a movie, getting ice cream, etc.). 

Using a chart and stickers that have a theme can be fun, too. Selecting something that your child finds interesting and exciting can add to the motivation of earning stickers.

Be sure to explain the chart to your child, and continually remind them of why they're earning stickers for certain behavior. This specificity and enthusiasm reinforces their good choices and contributes to their motivation. For example, "You did a wonderful job picking up all of the crayons. You earn a sticker!"

Be consistent. Keeping your expectations consistent is very important to help children understand what you're expecting from them. If a kid earns a sticker for one action today, and then something entirely different tomorrow, they're less likely to associate the reward with specific behavior. Additionally, if there are multiple caregivers who are issuing stickers, make sure they're all on the same page with what does (and doesn't) merit a sticker on the behavior chart. 

Be patient. Behavior change does not happen overnight. It may take some time for your child to really start to demonstrate behavior change, even with the use of a chart. Be patient while your child gets used to the new system; you may need to explain it more than once. 

There may be a few reasons that your behavior chart is not working. 

  • Unreasonable expectations — Are you asking your child to do something that they're not developmentally capable of doing?
  • Clear expectations — Does your child fully understand what you're asking them to do? 
  • Wrong rewards — Is your child interested in the ultimate reward? Or would they be better motivated by something different?

When kids have mastered a specific behavior, you can use the behavior chart to help them achieve the next level of whatever you are working on, or another skill altogether. Be sure to go through the same steps for next-level charts. Ensure that you're asking something reasonable of your child, that what you're expecting them to do is very clear and straightforward, that it's rewarded consistently, and that they're working towards something they're interested in.

Experts note that while behavior charts can be very effective for children, they are meant to be short-term tools to help develop good behavior. If you have concerns about your child's behavior, you can always speak to their pediatrician.