Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Flexible, Effective Behavior Chart, Part 1

WARNING:  This is going to be a long post, so, if you do not need a behavior chart at your house, get on your knees and say a SINCERE prayer of gratitude to your Maker you may not find this to be very interesting. 

So that you do not start to fear that this post is never-ending
Here is a brief outline of this post:

*Background on why/how this behavior chart came to be
*Benefits/drawbacks to this system
*Explanation of how the chart works, along with a detailed example of the chart I use at my house
*How to set up this chart so that it can be used at your house
*My rationale for using this system with my children

For YEARS (and YEARS are VERY LONG when you are in a situation like this) I had tried to find some way to get a grip on Ian's behavior.  I had read so many parenting books and tried their ideas but I had not had much success.  He would do something--scream at me, refuse to obey, break something on purpose--and I would know that there needed to be a consequence for his actions, but it was so hard to figure out what it should be, ESPECIALLY since I was in the middle of trying to survive his behavior while I was trying to figure all of this out.  Ian was not easily motivated, and, believe me, I TRIED!  When he was about *7* years old...

(Moment of silence for the HORROR of living for SEVEN YEARS with a child whose behavior was so severe that I needed to create my own behavior chart because nothing The Professionals, who did this sort of thing for a living, had come up with was working)

...I had a burst of inspiration straight from Heaven (Thank you, God, for finally answering my many, MANY prayers!) (Okay, okay, in God's defense, Ian may not have been ready for this system until the very time I had this burst of inspiration in which case, Thank you, God for sending me a child who was nearly impossible to deal with for SEVEN YEARS), and this behavior ladder was born.  I worked out the snags in the idea, and we started using it IMMEDIATELY. 

I wrote an explanation for the people who asked me how our system worked because they wanted to try it at their house.  The explanation may look daunting, but I found the system to be very logical and easy-to-understand/use once I started using it.  In the beginning, the hardest part for me was remembering how many spaces up or down each behavior was worth, but, since I kept lists posted next to the chart, I referred to those until I had it memorized. 

I think the reason this system works so well* for Ian is that it gives him constant, immediate feedback for his behavior, good or bad, while he is at home (which is most of the time....but I did make a portable chart for those times we need to be away from home)
*When I say "works so well" I do not mean to imply that there were sudden, miraculous changes to his behavior.  The system gave *me* the solution I needed to the "He just did something, and I know there should be a consequence, but what should it be?" problem, which GREATLY reduced my feelings of helplessness/hopelessness, and provided him, and the other children, with a consistent response to their behavior.

Although none of his siblings have the exact same challenges Ian has, most of them have been hard-headed obstinate stubborn-as-mules strong-willed as well, and this system works well for them also.  And a nice thing, if you should be so lucky as to have a child who is not determined to make you lose your mind or die trying consistently makes GOOD choices, is that this system allows for generous rewarding of good behavior too!

I enjoy having a concrete way to immediately respond to positive and negative behaviors. It is wonderful to be able to say: "Wow! That was really kind of you to help your sister; go move yourself up one!" or "I really appreciate you doing your chore without being asked; go move yourself up two!" or "That was rude and disrespectful; go move yourself down two." or "You didn't obey when I asked you to ______; go move yourself down three."

In my opinion, the biggest drawback to this system besides the fact that it is so very NECESSARY for some people is that it might not be effective until the child is 4-5 years old, and I remember being DESPERATE before Ian even turned 2 3.  Marie didn't really "get it" until she was about 6, but when Joseph was at the tail end of 4, he would look at his brothers and say, "Oh, you just disobeyed; now you have to move down 3!", so I started him then.  Plan on a child being 4-5 years old before he can start using this system, but, certainly: if you think he is ready before then, there's no harm in trying!

Here is my behavior modification chart and system.  Feel free to use it at your house or pass it along, but please mention where it came from in case my body and mind are taken over by zombies or aliens and I ever decide to get a Master's Degree or something and decide to use this as my Big, Ugly Project.

The basic idea is:  there is this ladder with different privileges on different spaces.  A person can enjoy any privileges that they are on or above (according to the rules of the household;  for example, a person can watch TV *IF* they have TV privileges AND their chores are done, etc...).  A person is moved up or down according to their behavior:  up for good choices, down for bad choices.  Except, if a person lands on an "extra chores" space, they must do a specific extra chore to get moved off of that space.

This is an example of a filled-in ladder.  You can easily personalize it for the needs of your family.

This is the chart that is used at my house.
24  Smiley face (Top of the chart, green)

23  Empty green space

            22  Empty green space

21  T.V. privileges (green)

20  Empty green

19  Empty green

18  Treats (green)

17  Empty green

16  Empty green

15  Computer (yellow)

14  Empty yellow

13  Playing with friends (yellow)

12  Playing outside (yellow)

11  Empty yellow

10  Empty yellow

9  Play with Toys (red)

8  Empty red

7  Empty red

6  Books (red)

5  *Food (red) (I put this here so that people wouldn’t be content to stay on “extra chores” forever; it seems like we always have a meal or snack right around the corner, so the children are more likely to be motivated to start moving back up quickly.)

4  Extra chores (Official bottom of the chart, red) (When a person lands on extra chores, that person MUST do an extra chore in order to move up; for any of the other spaces there are a variety of ways to move up.) 

3  Extra chores (red) (I have a little basket where I keep extra chores that need to be done;  whenever I think of some messy thing that is bothering me, I write it down on a little piece of paper and put it in the basket.  Examples:  washing the baseboards, washing windows, scrubbing the floor next to the kitchen cabinets with a washcloth, cleaning the always-nastydirty kids' bathroom, cleaning the mirrors in the house, washing walls, cleaning the microwave, using a disinfecting wipe to clean the light switches and doorknobs, cleaning the front of the refrigerator, dishwasher, microwave, and oven, weeding, dusting, cleaning out the van, etc....all of those pesky little things that I never rarely seem to find time to do) (Because it is possible to lose your mind overseeing someone who is doing extra chores run out of extra chores to do, I decided that a person could also move off of an extra chore space by writing "I will treat my mother with respect" or "I will obey my parents" 10 times)

2  Extra chores (red) (I put these spaces under the official bottom of the chart to discourage fit throwing on those occasions that somebody does something to get sent directly to the “official” bottom; if they throw a huge fit about going to the bottom, they earn more extra chores. However, MORE THAN ONCE, someone has decided to just keep on moving down once they've reached space #1; when that happens, I start keeping a tally* of all of the additional move-downs they have earned because this is a WONDERFUL way to get some necessary extra housework done I think it's important for the children to be held accountable for their actions.)

1  Extra chores (red) (When one or more persons in your household are stubbornly insisting on camping-out on extra chores, this is a sign that you should, WITHOUT ADVANCED NOTICE, order pizza, or decide to have ice cream or freshly made cookies, for the next meal...or two.) (Oh, yes, I have!) 

*I have asked a child psychologist if it is better to send someone to their room where they (hopefully) will stop doing the behaviors that are getting them moved down in the heat of an angry fit, or if I should allow them to keep racking up consequences.  She said to let the child rack up consequences.
Current record for number of spaces someone has nose-dived off of the chart:  50. 5!0!  (That was a VERY. LONG. DAY.)  Someone missed Halloween that year because he hadn't earned his privileges back by then, although he was, slowly, working at it. 
*If your child is at the point where they REFUSE to follow the family rules and WILL. NOT. DO. ANYTHING., a different psychologist agreed that it's better to take the child off the chart than to let them get 20,000 tally marks. So, this is where you have to know your child and hope your instincts have something useful to say to you. In my experience, so far, this situation has only happened with one 13 year old child. If you find yourself in this situation, you have my DEEPEST sympathies.

*For “Food”, you can either say, “Eating is a privilege, and you are welcome to eat when you have that privilege”, or, if your child is like mine VERY hard-headed and you know it will be a month day or two before they decide to deal with the consequences of their choices:  “Choosing what you eat is a privilege, and you are welcome to have as much oatmeal, fruit, or vegetables (or some other healthy thing that isn’t your child’s favorite) until you have earned that privilege back.”

(You may have noticed that I quite enjoy color coding things, ahem.  I coded this chart with the traffic-light colors:  green for "go", yellow (which turned into orange because yellow was too light to be seen) for "watch out/slow down", and red for "stop".  I had seen the traffic-light colors used in behavior modification programs at some schools too.)

Lest you think it is complicated to make this chart:  to make my first chart, I took 2 sheets of paper (I used cardstock the next time), cut them in half the long way, used crayons (I used markers the next time) to draw 6 rectangles on each piece of paper, and then filled in the information in each rectangle.  I HIGHLY recommend laminating the ladder once you've tried it and think you are happy with what you have put in the spaces.  You can take it to an office supply store, or use laminating sheets, the covers that come with laminating sheets to keep the plastic from sticking to the machine, and your iron, set on low and inched up until you find the setting that will melt the laminating sheets.   

Each child chose a little shape out of my scrapbooking punchies in their family color *happy sigh* (but I have previously made arrows with their names on them) and I laminated those (plus extras because they do wear out after a while...*cough*some faster than others*cough*). I put a little poster putty on the back, and each child is in charge of moving his or her shape up or down when I tell them which way to go. This works well because as soon as a behavior happens, I say, “You just did _______”, "Go move yourself up" or "Go move yourself down", and then when they ask if they can do something, I ask if they have that privilege right now. If they refuse to move themself when asked, then I move them down an extra one. 

I quickly made a rule that once the movie starts/the treat comes out/the friend comes over to see if a child can play, the child cannot then say, "What can I do to move up, mom?" If it is time for the movie, etc., and a person doesn't have those privileges, that person is out of luck.
The chart is a little tall, although, if your littlest one won't tear it down, you could put yours a little lower than I have mine. We keep a stool by ours so everyone can reach.  I really wanted to keep it all in one column so the children would truly experience the visual of either going up or down; I was afraid that if I put it in two columns that benefit would be lost.

It is helpful to keep a list of chores that need to be done/things you would like a certain child to do, so that when someone wants to move up and they ask for suggestions, you don't have to stop and think of something, you can just look at your list. Also, depending on how often you think your kids will be moving, you can adjust the number of empty spaces you put in between each privilege. 8-year-old (at the time) son did quite a bit of moving, so he needed some empty spaces so that he wouldn't lose all of his privileges within the first 5 minutes of each day; the spaces gave him a moment to contemplate where he was heading before he lost everything.

You know the chart is working when people stomp around the house saying, “I want to tear that behavior chart up!” or "I hate that chart!", so rejoice when you start to hear those exclamations =)!  Comments like that did necessitate the announcement that anyone caught trying to destroy the chart would have to make a new chart (or watch siblings while I do it) and would lose every privilege for a week. As of yet, nobody has made that choice *KNOCK ON WOOD*.

I added the numbers to the side of the ladder so that we can work on math along with behavior modification =). When someone says, “Mom, I’m on 5 and I want to get to 18; how many do I have to move up?” I ask, “What is 18 take away 5?”

To decide what to put on your ladder:  think of the things your children like to do, or are constantly asking to do, and put those on your ladder, with the things that you prefer they don't do too much of at the top. (In my house, the kids would sit in front of the TV all day long if I would let them, so I put that at the top.)  If your children don’t read yet, draw a picture next to the word and talk with them about what the picture means.  As the children get older, you can put different privileges on your ladder.  (Oh yes, someone is 12 1/2 now and is still using this chart.)

Near the ladder, for easy reference, I put two full pieces of paper: one outlined in green with arrows on the sides pointing up and the other outlined in red with arrows on the sides pointing down.

The green list is where you think about all of the things you would like your children to do more often and write them down.

All of these things, except the last one, move you up one space at our house.  On our green paper we have:

Helping mom or siblings

Obeying quickly/cheerfully

Doing schoolwork (move up 1 for each page completed)

Doing chores (any chores; either their usual assigned daily chores or extra chores–this is a great chance to get all of those little things done that never seem to get done like wiping off the cabinets or cleaning the floorboards or scrubbing the kitchen floor next to the counters.  Don’t forget to move people down for complaining while doing their chores so that they realize there is a difference between doing your chore without complaining and getting to move up one and whining and complaining the entire time which results in moving down two or three before you get to move up one at the end.)

Answering cheerfully

Being polite

Being kind

Reading to someone for 10 minutes

Practicing the Piano for 5 minutes

Exercising for 10 minutes

Doing chores (putting away dishes, feeding cats, etc) without being asked (moves you up 2)

The red list is where you think of the behaviors that are draining your energy all day long and rank them in order of importance for your family.

On our red paper we have (with the spaces you move down listed next to the behavior):

Whining/complaining (1)

Picking a fight (1)

Using bad language (i.e., name calling, using words like stupid) (1)

Speaking in a rude way to parents (2)

Disrespectful (2)
Talking back (2)

Disobeying a parent (3) (We had to make a distinction between DISobeying and NOT obeying and write them both on the list; people occasionally DISobey, but they often just sit there after being told to do something.)

Not obeying a parent (3)

Waking up baby (6)

Violence (with words or actions–basically losing control of yourself when you are angry and either pushing/hitting/pinching or screaming/saying mean things to someone) (bottom)

Lying (bottom)

*I have, at times, changed the items on each list and how much they are worth.  This is part of the FLEXIBILITY of this system;  if something isn't working quite as well as you would like, adjust it and see what happens.

I have tried to set up this ladder to be a real learning experience for my children.  I want them to understand that every choice has a consequence.  I want them to experience what it is like to make so many good choices and be moving up in the world and then to make one really bad choice and lose everything they have worked so hard for, but then be able to take a deep breath, deal with the consequences, and start working their way up again.  I want them to stop and think about their choices and the consequences they will experience before they decide how they are going to react to a situation (for example, where they are on the chart, which privilege they want to enjoy, and how they are going to respond to their brother who is irritating them).  I want them to practice saving and spending and deciding which of a multitude of good choices they are going to choose*.

*Saving and spending is addressed in Part 2.

What To Do If Your Child Destroys the Chart


Lauren said...

This is such a great idea. Wow! I am bookmarking this page for a couple of years down the road . . . .

Life of a Doctor's Wife said...

You are amazing. This system sounds wonderful! I like it especially because it doesn't only create immediate consequences, but it helps children (hopefully) learn how to gauge consequences BEFORE they act. Genius!

Superjules said...

Wow. You don't mess around. I'm impressed.

And I love: "One may not have to look far to find the origin of the "steadfast and immovable" gene my children possess."

clueless but hopeful mama said...

Brilliant! You are providing a valuable service to the internet, my friend.

Tara said...

i like this idea & have used similiar methods but think this would work better. my concern with my son is that when he gets moved down some time & loses it that he'll rip it down, tear it up, etc. that is usually what happens with any form of charts where i try to incorporate his involvement in adding to it. once i kept it in a journal of mine & handed it to him to put in a sticker when rewarding positive behavior but one time during a small battle with him, he sought it out & tore it to shreds.

Anonymous said...

What do you do with a child that never moves down. Do you have a reward system as well?

Doing My Best said...

Anonymous-Yes! I talk about the rewards in this post: