Tips for Using Behavior Charts to Shape Your Child's Behavior

Health Writer

Behavior modification strategies are among the most effective ways of helping a child with ADHD. Although we have talked a lot in the past about setting up a program like this at home or in conjunction with your child's school, it is not always as easy as it sounds. Behavioral charts certainly help keep track of your child's behavior and target those problem areas and many psychologists, doctors and ADHD coaches suggest parents use this type of tool not only to help change behaviors but to keep track of homework, chores and other daily activities.

The following tips should help you make the most of using behavior charts:

Make sure behavior charts emphasize and reward desired behaviors. Behavior charts should place more emphasis on rewards than consequences, desired behaviors than undesired behaviors.

Consistency is key. Creating a behavior chart is the easy part; follow-up and consistency is more difficult. If you create a chart for the week, be sure to follow up every day and finish out the week; if you create a monthly chart, make sure you continue to use the chart throughout the entire month. Your consistency with completing the chart will make a big difference in monitoring and changing behaviors.

Make it fun. Children with ADHD often respond more favorably when behavior programs are fun and interesting. Use charts as a fun way to change behaviors. Using charts that your child can relate to, such as car racing or the Itsy Bitsy Spider for young children can help keep them motivated to improve their behavior.

Be sure your expectations are reasonable. As you begin using behavior charts, it is important for your child to experience success. Reward any changes or improvements, no matter how small. Let your child's successes fuel his motivation to continue to improve. If your child is not earning stickers or stars, your expectations may be set to high. Review your expectations and revise to help your child succeed.

Limit charts to one behavior at a time. Focus on one single behavior rather than asking your child to try to change many behaviors at one time will help make behavior charts more successful. As your child uses and succeeds with behavior charts, you can add a second behavior.

Be sure goals are specific and trackable. Word goals in specific language to help your child understand what is expected of him, for example, rather than saying, "get along with siblings," state, "no hitting siblings." The more specific your goal, the easier it is to track the behavior.

Use rewards that will motivate your child. Rewards should be simple and something your child enjoys. For young children, the chart itself may be motivation enough, getting a sticker or star each day can be exciting. Other rewards can include choosing what to have for dinner, renting a favorite movie or having a friend come over. The more your child relates to the reward, the higher the motivation.

Use frequent rewards. Children with ADHD often have difficulty connecting future rewards and consequences with the present moment, in other words, behaviors on Monday should be connected to a reward on Monday, not on the weekend.  While you can have a cumulative reward system as well, such as "if you get a sticker every day this week, we will go for ice cream on Saturday," there should be a daily reward as well (the sticker).

Allow for partial rewards. Sometimes your child is not always able to attain a behavior. Rather than "punishing" him for failure, give credit for any improvement. For example, if your child is continuously hitting his sister and your goal is "no hitting" give him credit each time he interacts with his sister without hitting her rather than punishing him by withholding rewards if he hits her only once during the day. Accept that the behavior can improve in increments rather than changing all at once.

Review the chart on a daily basis. This goes along with consistency, take a few moments each day to point out your child's successes and praise him for any improvements made that day.

Review your behavior charts on a regular basis. As you begin using charts, you should review progress on a regular basis so you can make adjustments, either adding new behaviors or lowering expectations to help your child succeed.

Use praise frequently. One of the best motivators for children is your approval. Praise your child often, several times a day to let him know you have noticed his efforts.