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How do award charts work?
Q: I’ve read that an award chart is a great way for getting kids to develop good habits or break bad ones. Will this work for toddlers? What should we stress on the chart, and what would make it fun?
A: For an award chart to work the child has to be old enough to identify and understand whatever symbols are used on it. Smiling faces and stars are perhaps the most commonly used symbols. Before you start using one, find several ways to show your child what they mean. “Whenever I put a smiley face up on your chart, it means you have done something you should do. For example, every time you use the potty, I’m going to put one on your chart.”

But remember that smiley faces and stars don’t mean anything until they are traded in for some kind of reward that a toddler understands. That is, they stand for tangible rewards, just as a bank check stands for a certain amount of money, which in turn stands for food and other desirable items. So you need to let a child know that when a certain amount of stars are on the chart he or she will be rewarded with an ice cream cone, some time at a favourite park, a wagon ride or another special treat.

Incidentally, most people feel the symbols should be used only for positive behaviour. If you have a system in which symbols are removed for negative behaviour (aggression, tantrums, etc.), children often get angry and upset over losing rewards for good behaviour they legitimately earned in the past.

Now for a personal opinion. I doubt that a chart would be very useful with a toddler. I think you would do better by remembering to praise positive behaviour and offer a tangible reward for an accumulation of such behaviour.