Off the Charts

For the past couple of months we've been doing a "teamwork chart" with Leo and it's been going pretty well. It's had a much longer and more consistent success rate than other behavior tools or incentives we've tried. 

(For example: the calm-down glitter jar I saw on Pinterest and just had to try. We filled an old peanut butter jar with water, glitter glue and glitter to make a sparkly snow-globe-like thing. For a little while it kinda worked. When Leo would get upset or frustrated we would give the jar a shake and encourage him to watch the glitter settle, and when the glitter was all back at the bottom hopefully he'd feel calmer, too, and we could talk. It was like a time-out, but with glitter. A couple times it worked great. Then it didn't. It ended with him throwing the jar on the ground and the water, glitter and toxic smelling glue splashing the entire room. It was already a tense moment and having to clean up that mess while Zoe was trying to dive into it left me looking like a cranky fairy princess. But back to charting…)

When we were at a friend's house several weeks back, I noticed their chart on the refrigerator and asked about it. That same night I went home and made version that made sense for our family and it has been a great motivator.

The goals we put on the chart include:

  • Morning routine — get dressed, brush teeth and comb hair without a battle
  • Meals — eat a well rounded meal with at least one decent serving of fruit or veggies without a battle
  • Listening — a streak of paying attention when being spoken to and complying with parental requests…without a battle (noticing a pattern?)
  • Picking up — putting toys away
  • Kindness — treating others (particularly Zoe) kindly
  • Independent play — entertaining himself for a stretch
  • Nighttime routine — PJs, bath and brush teeth without a battle
  • Skills practice — work on letters, numbers or other skills. This can be worksheets, cards, or verbally.  This one is kind of a gimme because I don't really care if he does this or not, but he loves it and it's an easy way to earn a sticker and have some quiet time.
  • Pet care — feed and walk Talula

Some goals are pretty concrete (meals, routines) while the more abstract ones (kindness, listening) are a bit more arbitrarily doled out. Which is good when we want to speed up or delay reaching a reward.

Five stickers equals a reward — a show or a dessert. We reserve the right to restrict the redemption of stickers (like when he earns his fifth sticker right at bedtime and he wants to cash in on a show, but we also grant these privileges without a sticker price tag. We've even done a 20-sticker prize which is an exercise in patience (for all of us).  He earned a toy crane (which he has been coveting for a while) by earning 20 stickers. To keep him from spending them every time he racks up five we devised a "banking" system.  When he reached five sticker he can decide if he wants to spend them on a smaller reward or "bank" them towards a bigger reward. If he spends them, they get crossed out. If he banks them, they are circled, so we can still count them, but there are no longer available for spending. He's been pretty good about banking, but it's definitely taken some encouragement from us. 

All this is to say that the whole system is pretty loosey-goosey, but it seems to work. It gives him some control and clarity. At the same time it's been a valuable tool for us that has circumvented many an argument. Reminding him of the potential to earn a sticker has great power. And the rare occasions when we threaten to revoke a sticker are still taken quite seriously. I also think he takes a lot of pride in knowing exactly what his contributions are to the family team.

We have a couple rows left —one will probably have to be a second meal row (with three opportunities to earn per day, that one gets crowded quickly). We might add one for miscellaneous chores — like when he helps with food prep, setting the table or sweeping. I was also thinking of including something along the lines of building relationships — like writing a letter to someone far away or being engaged for a 5-10 minute skype session with a loved one. What's on your chart?

Sandra Telep is a West Philadelphia mom of two. This post is adapted from her blog, West Philly Mama.

Categories: MomSpeak