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How to Use a Behavior Chart

Laura Kuehn, LCSW
Written by Laura Kuehn, LCSW

There are a variety of behavior charts available to parents. As long as they are seen as a temporary tool to get a child back on track, they can be very effective. Here we will explore how to use CfP’s version of a behavior chart.

As we addressed in our previous post, behavior charts are not long-term solutions to behavior problems. They are a temporary tool to help you break into a cycle of misbehavior -kind of like a reset button. I have created a free printable behavior chart that is customizable for a child of any age. Here we will go through some suggested steps on how to use this particular chart.

1. Sit down with your child at a time of peace. This may be difficult to do given the circumstances at hand, but you and your child should at least have no raw feelings or wounds at the time of the discussion.

2. Confidently declare that things are going to change. Parents underestimate the power of this step. Your child needs to know that you are in control and that you are going to help them set things right. The confidence that you feel and emit at this point in the process is essential in communicating to your child that improvement is coming. You do not need to be authoritarian, simply firm and confident. If you use the term “circle of blessing,” you can can say something like, “You have been outside the circle of blessing so much lately. I care about you too much to let you stay there. We are going to use a chart to get you back on track.”

3. Identify problem areas. You may think that there are a hundred areas in need of improvement, but you should cooperatively pick no more than 5 areas of weakness. Your child may say nothing during this process, but don’t let that bother you. You can continue with the goal setting even if he makes the choice to not participate. The problem areas should be stated in the form of a positive goal on the behavior chart. Here are some examples:

  • Respect the personal space of others
  • Listen the first time an instruction is given
  • Speak in a respectful tone
  • Give gentle touches
  • Share with siblings

4. Establish the incentive. Here your child may start to participate. Since your child has been chronically outside the circle of blessing, there should be few blessings for him to enjoy. Aside from the essentials of food, clothing and education, the remainder of his blessings will come from having met set goals. Here are some examples of what your child might work for during the week:

  • Regular bedtime
  • 30 minutes of TV or computer time
  • Participation in a family game
  • 30 minutes of play time outside
  • Story time
  • Participation in after school activities or programs

You will notice that the goals are not rewards as in a typical behavior chart; they are simply a reinstatement of what already existed before (your list may differ). Essentially, the implementation of this behavior chart starts with a stripping of all “extras” from the child’s day. He or she will have to work for those everyday blessings. You are not dangling a carrot in front of your child hoping that he will bite. You are handing the reins to him: he is in control of what blessings he will get to enjoy. This is one of the key steps in the chart being successful. You cannot be more invested in the outcome than he is. He needs to own his behavior and the consequences (or blessings) that those behaviors receive.

[click image to print behavior chart]

5. Decide on points. This is the part where you will be able to individualize your plan. You can choose:

A) to give a point for every time your child engages in the desirable behavior (with no ceiling on daily points) – hash marks work well here-,

B) to give one point at certain “checkpoints” during the day (morning, afternoon and evening, for a maximum of three points in each box per day), or

C) to give points at the end of every day for each category (based on the child’s overall success with that goal throughout the day). This option is typically used for long term blessings (ex: a sleep over at a friend’s house at the end of the week).

I recommend that you use either option A or B for young children as they need more regular positive re-enforcement for behavior to improve.

You will also need to pre-determine how many points your child will need to earn in order to redeem his various blessings. Try to set it up so that at least one blessing is achievable in the first day. This will help hook your child into the program and increase compliance.

How your child “spends” his points each day is up to him. He can spend them as soon as they are earned or he can save up for higher valued blessings. You can simply cross out or erase the points as they are redeemed (a sheet protector and a dry erase marker can make this process easier). Use the “running total” boxes at the bottom of each column to record the carry over points each day.

6. Re-evaluate. You may find that your child begins to show improvement in a certain area very quickly. You can replace any obsolete goals with new ones if you wish or you can celebrate his success and leave that category blank. However if you notice that one area is consistently void of points (such as respecting others), you may want to give that category a star. Any starred category will need at least one point a day in order for the child to redeem any of his points that day.

As stated at the outset, behavior charts are not a long term solution. They are a short term measure for a cluster of difficult behaviors with the goal of “resetting” a child’s heart. Making sure that you verbally recognize the ways in which you see your child manifesting a changed heart is a great way to ensure that these improved behaviors will stick.

See also . . .

Energizing Success: Focus on Good Behavior


Photo credit: hotblack from

. Please note: This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace professional counseling. Read our full disclaimer here.

About Laura

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura is a licensed clinical social worker with a specialization in children and families. CfP is the place she combines some of her very favorite things: writing, parenting and God's word. She loves encouraging parents to build their families upon Jesus, the one true Cornerstone. She is happily married to a wonderfully supportive husband and is the mother of two delightfully inspiring children.


    • Hi Arely – That is a great question. Depending on how you use this chart it can be used with very young children (as young as age 3 or 4) all they way up through the teen years.

      For very young children, I would not use points, but small smiley face stickers like these. You would simply put the number of smiley face stickers in the blank for the weekly goals (instead of writing in the number of points) and say, “You need this many smiley faces a day to earn ________.”(draw what they are working towards on the blank). And instead of writing the goal on the left of the chart, you can draw of picture of the desired behavior (or a symbol that you both know represents it).

      I have been working on a similar chart designed specifically for younger kids and will add it to the collection when it is completed.

      I hope that helps!


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