How an Incentive Chart Works to Improve Behavior

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Confession: It didn’t take this time of Quarantine for me to find out my son’s teachers weren’t lying about his sometimes less than acceptable behavior. The terrible twos are still going on for my kid… he’s five. He’s a real smart boy, who is also clever and can be quite calculated when it comes to getting what he wants. He’s the only child (of mine) and the only child in our home and I think he’s well aware that if he catches mommy at the right time, he can get just about anything he wants. Ok, ok, ok…. he’s spoiled. There I said it. However, spoiled in our family doesn’t mean you get to cut up at home and definitely not at school. I am not sure what was going on with him but I got tired of receiving a verbal report of his brat like conduct during pick up at school. “What to do?” “What to do?” I wrecked my brain trying to figure out what could I possibly do to get my child to act right.

“Maybe if I spent more time with him”.  I decided I would intentionally spend more time with him. At the suggestion of my child therapist friend, I dedicated a whole ten minutes of uninterrupted playtime with him. He got to pick out the toy or game we would play. It was all about him, his rules, his toys, his way, his time. When the timer was up, playtime with mommy was over and we’d go back to our regularly scheduled programming. We did that every day for a solid week or so. It seemed to have worked. For about 3 days.

The next idea I tried involved a jar and marbles. I was going to fill it to the top and when he got a “bad report” I would remove a marble. But, I wanted to focus on positive reinforcement so I reversed it. Every time he did something that deserved praise, I would add a handful of marbles to the jar. The goal was to get it filled to the top and reward him with something like a new truck or LEGO set. Well, to no fault of his, this method was not successful either. I wasn’t consistent and it just fell by the wayside.

The task of finding something that would stick, and more than likely help get my boy on track became daunting. I was exhausted just by looking and thinking. But It was important for me to rely on methods other than screaming at the top of my lungs and “poppin” him every time he did something imperfectly. I knew I wanted him to feel proud about accomplishing small goals we set together and give him something to look forward to each night after our long days.

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With most things, I research profusely until I can settle on a product or service. I read tons of feedback and plenty of reviews before I make a purchase. I did the same for my next idea…an incentive chart. There are great benefits to these things. Who knew there was a method to our elementary teachers’ madness? Turns out, when done effectively, incentive charts have a powerful way of encouraging the kind of behavior I would like to see from my child. Incentive charts are a way to visually track successes with stickers and can help your child become proud of their positive behavior.

So after scrolling through Pinterest and Google, I settled on making an incentive chart of our own. Well… I didn’t make it. I actually purchased one from Lakeshore Learning. The Good For Me Reward Kit came with the chart, reusable stickers, a dry erase marker and a coupon booklet. The chart allowed us to be as specific as we wanted to be with my Alex’s goals. The chart starts with the prompt “I will” which made thinking of goals to accomplish easier. I started with things that seemed to be a challenge for him at home. I will brush my teeth every morning AND every night. I will read at least one book a day. By the third goal, he was coming up with them on his own. I made sure we were choosing things that were practical and not things I hadn’t even learned to do yet. We included chores like cleaning up toys, helping with the laundry (loading, unloading and pouring detergent). Of course, we wrote goals associated with school, like following instructions when first given and going the whole day without receiving a “bad report”. At the start of the week, Sunday, we’d go over the goals and decide If he’d like to add anything else. At the end of the week, we’d tally up all of his stickers and determine which “prize” he is due. I selected “prizes” I knew he would enjoy, toys he could build with or money he could put in his bank. Once he calculated 30, 60 and 100 stickers he had the option to continue collecting or cash out. By week three the kid’s behavior was on the up and up. I was so proud of my boy and it brought joy to see him be proud of himself. Every day he would come home excited to announce “no bad report today!” Music to my ears. To be honest, I felt some kind of way about “rewarding” my child for doing things that he should be doing. He should be listening to his teachers. He should clean up his toys at night. But he wasn’t. Kids learn about what behaviors are acceptable and not based on the consequences of said behaviors. I figured if I wanted my son to carry out a behavior more often maybe a reward would help. So I decided to initiate a small push to motivate him. I am just so happy it worked. I made a few observations:

Be sure to include your child when setting goals.

Consistency is paramount for success.

This strategy is meant to be short term.

It’s best to remain focused on the positive behavior. 

To my surprise, there is much debate about this strategy on the web. Some parents and experts think incentive charts hold no value and produce no results. Others, rave about it when it’s done right. Of course, like everything else, it very well may not work for your child. I’m no expert. I’m not a child psychologist. But what I am is an attentive parent. I think that’s the best kind of parent you can be; one who recognizes when things need to change and doing what it takes to learn and implement strategies to make said changes.

Have you tried this method? What strategies are you taking to guide your child’s behavior?

Be sure to follow me on Instagram, my IG stories are laced with plenty of laughable mommy moments.

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