Preschool Behavior Chart: Ending the timeout cycle
I admit I have a hard time talking about issues that come up in our parenting as my children get older. Not all issues exactly, but behavior issues. To be very specific: The issue of my child misbehaving at school.
Why? Well, I don’t think anyone wants to admit they are having a hard time with their child. For one it can be embarrassing. It’s like I am shouting to the rooftops that I am a bad mother.
But it is more than that. I know all parents go through challenges with their kids. I don’t want other people to think my kid is a bad kid. Because he is not. He is actually a really good kid.
I also don’t want to embarrass my kids when I blog about them. So I’m just going to reiterate, my preschooler is not a bad kid, he’s pretty awesome.
But even really good kids act up sometimes. And that is what is happening to us. My really good kid is not exactly behaving in school.
Now that I feel confident I reinforced the goodness of my child enough, he is acting up in school and it is unacceptable. Here is what we are dealing with and the preschool behavior chart that is finally helping Ben behave in the classroom.
Preschool Time Outs
I understand that almost every child has a timeout or two in preschool. Preschoolers are young and still learning, so they make mistakes. No big deal, that is part of the point of preschool.
I expect Ben to make some mistakes, get a timeout or two, and figure out how to behave properly. We’re not too worried if he has the occasional infraction.
Time outs can be a great deterrent, especially in preschool. It means Ben has to sit out of the fun, something he hates. Yet the time outs started piling up.
Emotional Regulation vs Behavioral Issues
Preschoolers can have big feelings, and those big feelings are hard to handle. Ben had a few issues earlier in the year with calming down when he got frustrated or upset. Fortunately, we have worked through that and it isn’t as much of an issue.
I really think emotional regulation is different from behavioral issues. Handling emotion requires a different skill set and it takes time for kids to understand why and how to do this. This is something we worked on with Ben and I will address it in a future post.
But one big thing to determine why your preschooler is acting out. It might not be possible to get a definitive answer because your child might not know. But you should be able to tell if you need to dive deep into your child’s feelings or just work on the behaviors.
What Didn’t Work For Us
We had already worked through dealing with emotions, and at this point, we knew this was a behavior issue. Ben was choosing to disobey rules. We tried several options for behavior before we settled on a behavior chart.
Alright, don’t get me wrong. We don’t ignore it when our child gets in trouble at school. But as it is at school, I’m not there to do anything.
So we tried ignoring the fact that Ben got timeouts , hoping this would lead him to stop. It sounds crazy when I type it out. But if he doesn’t get attention for breaking the rules maybe he would stop breaking them.
Plus some of the infractions were taking place at the beginning of the year. We were willing to give him grace in terms of adjusting to new kids and new routines. He might just need a little adjustment to get used to someone besides his parents enforcing rules.
This did not work well. Sure, a couple of things calmed down. We went through waves of excellent behavior then periods of issues. Ignoring it was not the answer.
I do believe that if you get in trouble at school you should get in trouble at home. Kids need to know that school isn’t a bubble where parents don’t know what is happening. I know what is happening. Well, I can find out.
So if Ben got time outs at school, he got into trouble at home. The home consequences varied depending on the number of timeouts and reasons for them, but something always happened.
Ben lost tv time, dessert, and toys. He got additional timeouts at home. We lectured, even yelled, and nothing really helped. The timeouts still happened. Something had to change.
I Was Failing
I was kind of devastated by all of this. Ben is such a good kid, why couldn’t he just not break the rules at school? Why couldn’t I get him to understand?
More so, what was I doing wrong? Because obviously, this all meant I was not a good mother. I was failing him.
I have to admit that I cried over this several times.
It sounds like such a little thing, my kid got a timeout in preschool. But I felt like a total failure. Nothing I did helped. I was punishing and yelling, which also made me feel terrible.
I didn’t want to parent like this. All I wanted was for Ben to succeed at school. I wanted him to follow the rules, get along with his peers, and enjoy himself.
I had to find a way to help my son.
What Finally Worked
It was time to regroup and figure this situation out. I was unwilling to let Ben just continue to get timeouts. And I was not satisfied with our current cycle of punishments. They weren’t helping.
Talking to His Teacher
The first thing I did was set up a meeting with his teacher. It is always helpful to get her perspective, as she is the one who sees the behavior every day.
I am so happy that Ben has amazing teachers who really care. Although I think it is hard to find a preschooler teacher who doesn’t just love kids and wants to help them out. Ben’s teacher was so helpful with this.
The teacher was able to really enlighten me to what she thought was going on. Ben seemed to be testing limits. This is totally normal for kids. No, that doesn’t mean he should get away with it. But it did mean we didn’t need to worry about a deeper problem going on.
She told me that she knew Ben was a good kid. I felt better knowing that what he was going through was normal, even though we did still have to take care of it. I was able to work on an action plan with her.
Preschool Behavior Chart
Part of my plan for Ben was to implement a preschool behavior chart. It’s a sticker chart. This is the first time we have used a tool like this.
I am not normally a fan of sticker charts or other behavior charts. Kids shouldn’t get a reward for doing what they are supposed to do. That means behaving because it is what is expected, not because you get a prize.
But I read a few articles about how this sort of chart could help reset a child’s mindset. They weren’t meant to be used forever, just long enough to set some new habits. My goal was to reset Ben’s behavior, so I took the tips about using a chart and gave it a go.
Simple Behavior Chart
I looked at a few preschool behavior chart templates, but honestly, I didn’t think it needed to be fancy. Simple is best. I didn’t want to make a production out of this and make Ben think a behavior chart was the goal.
Part 1: The Rules
The first thing we did was make the rules. I had Ben be a part of this process. He needed to understand exactly was expected of him.
I think kids behave better if they have a sense of ownership over the rules too. These were Ben’s rules. He helped write them, he decided they were important and worth following.
Of course, I helped guide these rules. But we hit the major points we needed Ben to follow. He was actually very proud that he came up with his own rules.
Part 2: The Reward
After we had our rules in place it was time to come up with the rewards. Ben had input on this as well. (But once again I did guide this conversation. We weren’t going nuts with these rewards.)
I decided to create levels of rewards Ben could reach. He got a sticker every time he didn’t get a timeout at school. He also got one for good speech sessions. (Yep, the misbehavior had carried over to that.) This meant he could get up to 6 stickers in a week. (At home and on weekends he just had to behave.)
Ben gets his first reward after just 3 stickers. It’s little, game time with me. I wanted something he could hit quickly to reinforce the value of good behavior.
The next rewards were after 5 and 10 stickers. They were a little bigger, but nothing hard. (Extra tv time and a fun dessert.) He needed to keep working, but there were perks as we went.
The last big reward, an ice cream date with me, is after 15 stickers. I chose this because that is how many he could earn if he got every sticker before the school break. I don’t want to leave this hanging too far into the new year if I don’t have to.
Ben’s chart is taped to the wall by his room. (Yep, fancy decor in this house.) He walks past it and sees it all the time. We also stop and review the rules and rewards frequently.
This is important. Put your chart somewhere your child can see it a lot. No, Ben can’t read yet, but he knows what it is and he can see his stickers. He also signed it, along with Pat and me, so he is very aware that we are all on the same page.
A Cumulative Approach
Ben gets rewards based off how many stickers he gets, but he does not need to get those stickers in a row. This was something I thought hard about.
One of my goals is to remind him that making a mistake doesn’t mean that you have failed. He can be a bit fatalistic at times. So missing one day doesn’t put him back at the starting line. Each day is a fresh start and a new chance to act right.
We aren’t spending big money on Ben’s rewards. We’re actually spending very little. I didn’t want to make a toy the goal. The experience is what counts. And it felt like that aligned better with my thought that you don’t behave to get things.
I strongly suggest you make your rewards something your child likes, but nothing too big. They are all also things we can do right away that day. No need to wait. That helps with behavior motivation.
As I said, Ben helped me come up with the rules and rewards. He is excited about this and highly motivated to behave now. I think this is because he has a sense of ownership over the whole thing.
The rewards are in his control. No one else in the family misses out if he doesn’t earn them, so I’m not worried I will make exceptions. The only person holding him back is Ben.
I also had Ben participate in part of my meeting with his teacher. This shows him that we are a united front. He cannot get away with poor behavior at school. I talk to his teacher.
Little kids have very little they are in control of, and that’s hard. Who wants to do something just because they were ordered to? These rules and rewards were Ben’s ideas. He is making the choice to behave for him.
I had a feeling this could really work for us when Ben dragged his daddy over to see his chart and explain it to him.
Results So Far
So far Ben is nailing it. He has gotten every sticker he could earn. He knows what is expected of him and is motivated to act right.
My hope is that he nails this chart, though I am expecting some setbacks. He’s human and just a kid. I don’t blame him if he acts childishly sometimes.
But I am feeling more confident than I have in a long time.
We have common goals. We have a plan. And we are making positive changes. I hope this works.
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