Behavior Chart

Pennies and Problems


It’s been a long time since we’ve had to use a reward chart for “Em;” I think the last one was while she was potty training. When we did the rewards back then, she received a sticker on her chart for each successful trip to the bathroom, and when she had that mastered, she earned a sticker for each day that was accident-free. I don’t remember what the reward was for filling a chart with stickers, but it was probably something like “pick any toy from the $1 section at Target” or something like that. There was no consequence for not using the toilet, other than not receiving a sticker for that attempt/day.

However, Em is much older and consequences are now appropriate. We’ve struggled with a few behavior quirks in the past, usually related to Em’s return from her dad’s house in the summer which resolved themselves within a couple of weeks. This year these quirks have quickly evolved into full-blown behavior problems. It seemed the traditional removal of a prized possession or privilege wasn’t cutting it. I was venting my frustrations with a friend of mine and she told me about a system she’s currently using with her son who is a couple of years older than Em. I modified it a bit and this is what I ended up with:

In order to teach Em that every poor choice has a negative consequence, she loses more points than she would have gained if she’d done the right thing. Em and I each have a jar with pennies inside, every point being worth one penny. We mark off points as they happen so there is an immediate consequence, though it seems small at that exact moment. At the end of the day we total everything up; if her grand total is in the positive, we transfer the earned amount of pennies from my jar to hers. If she’s in the negative, she must give back that many pennies.

One of the major problem we were having was lying. No matter how many times I encouraged her to tell the truth to lessen the amount of consequence, the lies would just be piled one on top of another. She’s quickly learning the value of telling the truth. If, for example, she does not complete a task I asked her to do and she lies about it, she’ll end up losing 4 points, 2 for not completing the task and 2 for the lie. If she continues to lie about the task she didn’t complete, she loses another 2 points for each lie. We ran into this scenario last week and I reminded her that she’d lose fewer points if she just told the truth right away: rather than lose 4 or 6 points, she’d only lose 2 and potentially be in the positive by the end of the day if she did everything else correctly. Once Em saw the math, she understood that even if she does something wrong, telling the truth can help keep her final total in the positive.

Last week was our first week with the chart and while I wish she’d earned more pennies, at least she ended the week with some pennies in her jar. One bad day led to a serious deficit and a potential for around 30 points per week ended up with a final grand total of 9.

After I created the chart, Em and I worked together on the rewards she could earn with her pennies and came up with some ways for us to spend extra special time together with various values. The reward redemption amount starts at 50 pennies and increases in value depending on how “big” something is to Em. 50 seemed like a steep amount to start with for a “smaller” prize and I almost wavered a bit last week when I realized that it will take her at least a week and a half of “perfect” behavior to earn something, but considering the struggle we went through week 1 of this new system, I think 50 is a good number for her; it’ll help her to set a goal and see that her hard work is paying off.

Here’s hoping to a better week than last and a heavier penny jar in Em’s hands.

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