Positive Behaviour Change Part 3: Using Reward Charts Effectively 

Hi everyone,

Welcome to the third part of our series on positive behaviour change. In part 1, we looked at the general approach and intentions that form the foundations of all effective behaviour management approaches. In part 2, we looked at the central importance of praise and rewards as tools to help us achieve our aims. This article will now hone in on how to use set up and use reward systems effectively.

The most common reward system is a reward chart, which is a helpful visual tracking system, to keep us and our kids on track for behaviour goals. We set target behaviours, and track how often our children successfully show these behaviours using ticks, stickers or stamps. These markers are then used to calculate rewards, based on the agreement (achieving a certain number of ticks/stickers/stamps = X reward). They add a bit of extra weight to the descriptive praise we’re using, by adding a visual (the tick/sticker/stamp) and tangible reward into the mix. The criteria for getting the reward are clear and objective, too, so it’s easier to avoid entering unhelpful negotiations with your child about whether they ‘have been good today’ and ‘deserve’ whatever rewarding activity your child wants. Reward charts are specific, positively focused and to the point, and that makes them powerful tools.

In order for a reward chart to work well, your child should be as involved as possible, from designing and decorating the chart, to letting you know the kinds of rewards they would like. Perhaps you want to give them a menu of options for rewards, with options that are personal (e.g. iPad time) or social (special activity with mum/dad). This can easily be a fun activity and helps create some ownership over the chart itself. It’s essential that the target behaviours are positive and specific, too: ‘walking in the house’ is much better than ‘no running’ or ‘move appropriately in the house.’ Next, make sure you catch all the behaviours you’re targeting and swoop in to give that sticker and descriptive praise! Finally, it can be tempting to use the chart as another threat of punishment (e.g. ‘turn off the game right now or I’ll take a sticker off the chart’ or ‘you won’t get a tick if you keep going’). Try to avoid turning the chart into a negative tool, and use it only to reward and encourage behaviours you want.

As your child gets more and more successful with the reward chart, gradually make the stamps harder to achieve, with the goal of phasing the system out after the behaviour is well established – but keep up the descriptive praise when they do a great job.

I hope this has been a helpful exploration of setting up a reward chart and perhaps inspires you to target a handful of behaviours you’d like to see more of from your kids. For more information – and for troubleshooting tips, if you’re finding barriers along the way – check out Reward charts for child behaviour: tips | Raising Children Network.

Graham Goodall-Smith

Registered Psychologist