Why We Should Get Rid Of Behaviour Charts

Many parents in Parentability over the last couple of months are the systems that are put into place for our children at daycare and school… BEHAVIOUR CHARTS

This is not the first time we have discussed this, but with school in full swing it seems to be the best time to discuss it again.

If you’re a teacher maybe you can tell me why this is…but for some reason teachers seem to wait till children are settled in to start using behaviour charts.

I personally have all kinds of theories on why this is, but usually, it’s around now, about a month to two months into school that these get introduced.

These come in so many forms:

A really popular one seems to be the stoplight system where you’ve got green/yellow/red. Green is behaving well, yellow is ramping up, red is misbehaving.

There are also sticker charts, token economies, or any kind of extrinsic motivation! This includes when people pervert my love of visuals and start handing out rewards or punishments for completing or not completing visual schedules.

Another one that keeps rearing it’s ugly head is misuse of the Zones of Regulation system. Which is designed to teach children how to recognize their arousal levels, but because it’s got that kind of stoplight-colour coding to it…it often gets turned into a stoplight chart.

I hate behaviour charts!

It’s one of the reasons I could not handle working in schools and that I was so anxious about sending my oldest to school.

When I say this, people generally give me these looks of bewilderment and horror… like, how could you hate behaviour charts?!

As one of my teacher friends, who I’ve since reformed, said: “Behaviour charts are one of the only control mechanisms we have left.”

There it is folks: Control. 

Listen. I get it, I’ve been there… I hate it.

It’s why I never considered opening a preschool or a daycare of my own. Managing 20-30 children with one or two adults on duty is hard work!

You’ve got 20-30 different families that do things 20-30 different ways. You’re obviously not allowed to use corporal punishment because it’s wrong.

Although apparently not illegal in much of the US.

The American Pediatric Association has made a clear statement that removing recess for disciplinary reasons is unacceptable. Again, for what I hope would be obvious reasons.

Therefore, most teachers assume that leaves them with behaviour charts because, and this may shock you, teachers generally only have a couple of classes during their teaching degree in classroom management.

Most of it focuses on engaging children in lessons, not behaviour management.

There are lots of teachers both in the Parenting Posse and in ParentAbility and repeatedly I hear about how nobody taught them how to actually effectively teach children how to behave.

I am still friends with my kindergarten teacher and we talk about behaviour management often.

My sister in law and one of my best friends from childhood are kindergarten teachers.

It’s a frequent topic of conversation.

I understand from a teacher’s perspective the challenges.

I really have taken the time to dig into that.

Not to mention that I spent a lot of my early intervention career in classrooms.

I went wherever the child who needed intervention would typically go, so I was in preschool and kindergarten with them.

4 reasons why behaviour charts are no bueno:

1. They teach extrinsic motivation

Just like time outs, behaviour charts teach you to only do something because someone else has told you to do it.

They’re blackmail.

“Keep your hands to yourself and I’ll give you a sticker!!”

That wears thin really quickly because chances are you have a reason for not being able to keep your hands to yourself.

You have lagging skills like impulse control deficit or flexible thinking deficit.

You’ve got a sensory need that isn’t being met and you’re either hyper or hypo aroused and you don’t know how to come back to calm and regulate.


If they aren’t, it’s because they can’t.

No amount of stickers or rewards or removal of incentives is going to teach them skills they don’t have!

Misbehaviour and stress behaviour are not character flaws.

“Trying harder” is not a durable solution. You can’t try yourself into regulation.

In fact, it’s the opposite, generally, the more you try to force regulation, the more dysregulated you get.

This is why parents are always coming to me saying “I’m trying to teach them to regulate but I have to force them Tinto it!”

You can’t force someone to regulate!

You can only create the conditions under which they can regulate and that’s not nearly as difficult as it sounds if you know what you’re looking for.

The problem is teachers haven’t been told what to look for… and neither have parents!

If I had my way, a huge aspect of transitioning back into a school year would be consulting with parents on what helps their child regulate. How frequently they need to regulate. What the indicators are that they need to regulate. What strategies worked well last year.

However this is nearly impossible for teachers to do when parents don’t know how to answer the question. This puts teachers in a position of having to do all that discovery work and they have a class to teach, they don’t have time for that.

This is something I work with HEAVILY with my clients on. 

2. Behaviour charts do not teach your child what to do.

Children who are constantly on red or never get a sticker, or never earn tokens.

They begin to think there’s something inherently wrong with them because no matter how hard they try, they still don’t have the skills to do what you’ve asked them to do.

They try every day, often very hard and yet they need get ahead. They always end up falling short.

This makes for a powerful psychological impact.

Telling someone how much they suck at something doesn’t make them want to try harder.

It makes them throw up their hands in frustration and give up.

These systems basically put a marquee over a child’s head that says “FAILURE” … So they give up!

If I’m never going to earn any tokens, I’m going to stop trying.

If I’m always going to be on red within the first 10 minutes of every day, fine, whatever, I don’t care anymore.

Then we go “this works so well for some children, why not this one?”

This is because this one doesn’t have the skills needed!

Behaviour charts work for children that already have the skills to behave well, they just need boundaries!

Skills are not taught. They don’t teach them how to regulate. They don’t teach them how to use impulse control.

They don’t give them practice using flexible thinking or planning and prioritising or self-monitoring.

They just highlight their inability to do it, and the expectation is that if you point out to a kid that they’re failing, they’ll somehow magically figure out what they should be doing instead.

This would be similar to me standing up here and saying “don’t use time outs”…but then not telling you what the alternative is or giving you any guidance on how to use Natural and Logical Consequences.

You don’t have the skill to do anything else, so you’re going to keep doing what you know even if it’s not meeting your goal.

Behaviour charts are never going to solve the problem.

3. Behaviour charts support public shaming and group division.

What gets you moved up or down the chart, and what earns you a token or a sticker is completely decided without your input and arbitrarily.

Teachers often make it up on the fly, so you’re never in a position to make a good decision because the boundaries are being communicated to you in a threatening way after you’ve already crossed a boundary you didn’t know existed.

The expectation is that you always be aware of what boundaries have been set for others at all times, therefore you have to stay hyper aware of your surroundings which is exhausting!

This leaves less energy available to use your skills.

Parents threaten kids with losing a sticker out of nowhere and again that is the first time the boundary has been communicated to them.

Behaviour charts don’t support critical thought on either the child or the adult’s end because rather than looking at what’s going on.

Parents are not thinking about what is going on and asking the child why it’s happening.

Then solving the actual problem or supporting the child in acquiring the skills they need.

Charts are all about making stuff up on the fly and hoping because you’re publicly admonishing a child for that shortcoming, everyone will remember it’s not allowed going forward.

I get it, you’ve got 30 kids in your room and spending tons of time figuring out everyone’s problems is hard.

We hade these changes:

A) support parents in teaching children the skills at home

B) teach the skills young so that by the time they get to grade school they’ve got a solid foundation to build on and

C) work as a class on figuring out the problems and displaying empathy and group drilling and group problem-solving

Then it’s actually easier and takes way less time than policing children for every misstep they make.

If there’s a problem, you come together to figure it out.

You may be shocked at the self-sustaining solutions children come up with. 

This is how we build a self-monitoring society.

Behaviour charts just label kids without skills as the “bad kids” and give the “good kids” an inflated sense of superiority.

Often that means the ones who have good executive skills will figure out a way to make the children without them their scapegoats and misbehave anyways.

4. Parents and Teachers are in the position of Warden.

Similar to timeouts, children learn to only behave if they’re in danger of getting caught.

If you’re not around, then there’s nobody to move the clothespin or revoke a sticker or deny a token or whatever asinine system you’re using.

It also means the rules change based on who is or isn’t around.

If they can just do it under the radar, then no harm no foul, nobody noticed so it’s not wrong.

It makes kids sneaky. This is not the skill we want them to have.

It makes it very easy to have a thought process that goes “If I do this, I’ll lose a star, and I’m always losing starts so no big deal there, so I’ll do it anyways.”

Versus “If I do this, I’ll hurt so and so, and that will make them sad. I don’t want to make them sad. So  I won’t do it.”

This is using critical thought, using our executive skills. This helps to build better skills that’s what disciple should do. Not just condition children to check around the corer to see if they are being watched first.

All this to say that if we want our kids to truly behave better if we want to be able to back off, to trust them to do the right thing, to be responsible for their own actions.

We need to teach them how to be responsible little people.

This needs to be the focus of our efforts, not just walking around pointing out when they’re failing to meet our expectations.

These charts don’t fix the problem and eventually, your kids grow up a little bit, have a few cognitive leaps, and realize that the fucking chart actually holds no power and they rebel hard!

This is because they still don’t have the skills they need to behave.

Our focus needs to be on collaborating with our children to solve the problem, not on controlling them. We should not be manipulating them into doing what we prescribe them to.

Now, I know many parents and teachers use these charts because they genuinely don’t have any idea what skills a child is lacking or how to teach them.

It’s not like math where there’s a clear progression of skills.

Life without Behaviour Charts

First, help your child to think clearly and to get out of the punishments and rewards habit yourself.

To help you do that I’ve got my free scripts for crazy-making behaviour pack that you can download.

It’s like, your toe-dip into how to address concerns, set boundaries, and collaborate with your child on solutions.

When you download that, you may want to grab the Time-Outs Aren’t Working.

This bundle will help you dive deeper into how to use Natural and Logical consequences and gives you all kinds of great resources to eliminate punishments for good.

When it comes down to it, they’re no different than time-outs.

The exact same arguments can be made, only there’s a real public shaming or psychological layer to charts it it too, especially when they’re used in schools and daycares.

We have the power to be the change for our children, and for our children’s children.

These methods are holdovers from the 90s and there’s been more child development research done since Y2K that was done in the 50 years prior.

It’s time to stop living in the past, it’s 2021 people!!

If you have any questions or just want to join the conversation come join us at the Parenting Posse

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About Allana

Hi, I’m Allana. I teach parents of toddlers and preschoolers why their children are misbehaving and what to do about it without yelling, shaming, or using time-outs. When not teaching parents about behaviour you can generally find me chasing around my two boys, reading cheesy romance novels, or hanging out with my own parents.

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