What Are The Best Alternatives To Behavior Charts?

Last week, I shared my experience with behavior charts.

The shame, the anxiety and perhaps, most frustrating of all, the fact that they really don’t work.

Time and time again, it has been shown that  children having the most issues will not only not be helped by a behavior chart, it often actually causes an increase in negative behaviors and a decrease in positive performance. 


Because I feel strongly that this type of motivation is shame-based and honestly, often cruel, in this follow-up post I want to provide more effective and confidence building-alternatives to the typical behavior chart. 

Behavior Charts?

Why Are They Used In The First Place?

Before I get into specific tips and tricks however, I want to take a step back and address the goals that behavior charts typically strive to achieve.

Group/Classroom Management

For teachers with 30-plus children, having a classroom management system is essential. I would never try to say otherwise. Behavior charts are often used to simply decrease the level of interruption and to try to enforce rules and standards.

Decreased Negative Behaviors

When a behavior chart is employed in both the classroom and in behavioral therapies, the goal is usually to decrease negative behaviors. This is why a behavior chart often “punishes” negative behaviors by removing privileges and visually demonstrating the loss (i.e. removing a clothespin from your chart or moving your card from green to yellow).

Increased Learner Self-Control 

Finally, there is a perception, again in both therapeutic and classroom settings, that behavior charts can help a child develop and maintain self-control. 

With these goals, there is a perceived outcome that just does not line up with research and our own experience with behavior charts. As we discussed last week, behavior charts are shame -based, create a decrease communication and relationship, and tend to focus on behaviors that may not yet be in a child’s control.

So, what do we do instead?

What Are The Best Alternatives To Behavior Charts?


Even in a classroom setting, creating opportunities for movement and sensory breaks can make a significant difference in overall negative behaviors. When working one on one with a child, it’s like magic.

Let me give you an example. 

A few weeks ago, I arrived for a session with a brilliant ten-year old boy I work with weekly. It was obvious when I arrived that he was struggling and his mom said it had been going on all morning. Instead of requiring him to get to work right away, we took 15 minutes outside and did some basic gross motor activities. When we went back inside, he reported his body “feeling calmer.” He was able to better focus and even willingly wrote an entire paragraph. (This child is dysgraphic.)

Children need movement in order to focus and learn. It really is that simple. In a classroom, it can look like quick brain breaks, where the kids stand and stretch. Alternative seating with yoga balls and sensory bands can help the most active children stay more focused as they learn. 


Sometimes, proximity can make all the difference for a child struggling with negative behaviors. In a homeschool setting, this can look like a “time-in” where a parent stays with a child as they take a “time-out” to calm down. 

In a classroom, this can look like a teacher asking the child to come up to her desk and help her with a special project. It can even be a simple as walking over to the struggling child, staying close and privately asking them what you can do to help.


In my experience, when none of the above works, sometimes a struggling child just needs a distraction. For some, it can be a sensory toy or fidget. For others, it can be asking him to hand deliver a note to the office secretary. (I know of one set of teachers that have a “purple folder” system worked out. When a child is clearly having a hard time in class, the teacher asks her to be a dear and deliver this important work to one of the other teachers. When the receiving teacher sees the child with the purple folder, she spends a little bit of time thanking her for her help and encouraging her before returning to class. Then, she might do the same later with another child in her own class. Brilliant!)

The same can be done at home. Stopping school to cook a meal, take the dog for a walk and even go for a drive and listen to an audio book can be a great way to get learning back on track for the day. 

The reality is that these techniques require much more of us as parents, teachers and therapists. There is no way around it. But the truth is, behavior charts may seem easier, but they really do nothing to effect the behaviors of a struggling child. Again, they can actually make it worse.

These alternatives promote a much more long-term strategy – one of mutual respect, developing and learning skills at a pace that is individualized to the child, and most importantly, in a way that protects and fosters a child’s growing sense of self. 

Do you have any alternatives to behavior charts that you would recommend? Please share them in the comments below or in our discussion over on Instagram.

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  1. Melanie A Bonenfant says:

    Hi, my son is in an ASD classroom and we found he was getting a lot of anxiety from his behavior chart so his teacher switched from using one to a token economy system. The problem is that she said once he has earned his reward then his disrupting behavior increases because he’s lost that external motivation to do well. Do you think a token economy system is beneficial? I was thinking of trying this at home this summer to motivate my boys to do some summer learning, reading more, daily exercise. I was going to create a mom store where they can earn things like special (healthy’ish) snacks and favorite activities. My second question is this, I am trying to get my 14 year old to quit swearing, is it appropriate to take away a “token” to motivate him to stop? Is it fair to take away something that he has already earned? Maybe giving an extra token for each day he goes without swearing would be better than taking away? I may have just answered my own question, ha ha 😉

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