Behavior Chart for 3 Year Old

Updated on October 17, 2012
C.B. asks from Geneva, IL
10 answers

I've been battling some inappropriate behavior from my 3 1/2 year old son (disrespect, hitting, not listening, etc). These may be normal 3 year old behaviors, but some of them seem to be getting worse -- especially the disrespect. These behaviors have come on in the last 5 months since my daughter has been born. I try very hard to give him one on one attention (movies, chuck e cheese, special time while she's sleeping, etc). However, when she's awake is when he acts up. I want to start rewarding his good behavior instead of disciplining his bad behavior if that makes sense.

So, I want to create a behavior chart with 4-5 key areas that need improvement. I want it to be a weekly chart. My idea is that each behavior will earn a 'smiley face' or a 'frown' per day. At the end of the day if he has all smiles, he will get a 'token'. Once he gets a certain number of tokens, he can 'buy' something.

The questions I have:
1) How many tokens should he have to earn in a week to buy something. I was thinking 5? And increasing it as time goes on? No one has a perfect day, and I want to make sure that a reward is attainable for him, so he doesn't get frustrated right off the bat and not try at all.

2)What should the rewards be? My initial idea was to go to a party store and stock a 'treasure box' with cheap items that he can purchase. However, I wonder if that is sending him the wrong message that he gets something for behaving in a manner that is appropriate. He just SHOULD act right, right? So, then do I reward him with one on one time? He's already getting that pretty regularly & it doesn't seem to effect his behavior.

Any thoughts would be appreciated!


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answers from Minneapolis on

When my oldest was 3 I was struggling with some behavior issues as well. I started a chart and tackled one behavior at a time. If he did well for that particular behavior, he earned a sticker on his chart that day. Once he had 3 days of good behavior, he earned a trip to someplace he liked to go (we live near a free zoo, a train store with play tables he likes, a trip to the park, etc.). That way he was getting a reward, but it wasn't a tangible/material thing, rather a special time with Mom - but something HE picked and wanted to do (we did bring his brother too - so it wasn't exclusive 1 on 1, but that would have been good too). Then, once we had a few reward days for he behavior we were working on, then I switched the chart to be for the next thing we wanted improvement... and the other behavior was expected to be better from that point forward. He understood that expectation because we were doing just one behavior at a time.

I think 5 days might be too long for a 3 year old. And, a whole day might be too long too, maybe break it into two (morning smile/afternoon smile).

I've tried having a prize bag with dollar store treats for improved behavior but haven't found it particularly affective in changing behavior for my 3 or (now) 4 1/2 year olds. I prefer to have a the reward be an outing. That's just what works for us.

Good luck!

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answers from Indianapolis on

We don't keep a chart, but we also have a 3.5 year old who's getting to the stage of acting up and exerting his independence a little.

Your situation is a little different because his may stem from having a newer sibling who's taking his attention that he's accustomed to. In our case, they're 21 months apart, so they're used to each other (she's now 22 months).

We do make it a point to verbally commend them (both kids) when they're exhibited good behavior. Our son asked last night if he could get a prize for being a good boy at the mall, we told him "No, being a good boy is our expectation".

He does get special things frequently. Days with Mom/Day, movies from Blockbuster/library, matchbox cars, ice cream at night. We hadn't considered doing a chart, but we did the bribery thing with potty training and used milestones as criteria for getting Cars cars.

Good luck.

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answers from San Francisco on

Hi C.,

Rewards don't need to be something to buy.
And, as in the previous post, he may need some more immediate reward to feel good.

What about something he can do in the evening (an extra book at bed time, a game you play with him, maybe a video or video game if he is allowed TV/computer...). Believe it or not but for my son washing the dishes or having the right to write in the bathtub during the bath (with the special bath crayons) are rewards. meaningful and immediate.
At the same time of this "doing" reward, you can still collect token, marbles or jelly beans and after a certain amount go buy something or maybe to the zoo, or ride the small car or the carousel at the mall.

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answers from Los Angeles on

You already have some great responses from the mamas but I just wanted to add that some kids work on praise and others work on punishment. I have 3 kids, two who do much better with the praise route and one who does much better with the punishment route. The two who are praise needers literally act worse and worse the more they are punished or yelled at but as soon as you start praising their good behavior it continues and the negative behavior subsides substantially. I hope I am making sense :) So just something to keep in mind with your lil guy, and I am sure you are doing a great job! A disrupt to the "routine" (i.e. a new sibling) can take some kids much longer to adapt to than others.

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answers from Sacramento on

You are on exactly the right track. We meet with a behavioral therapist to help with our son's ADHD and when he was that age, we also did a behavior chart with the same rewards you've mentioned. The key is to provide the rewards pretty quickly -- same day. Offer the smaller rewards daily and then if all goes well all week, he earns something bigger, like you take him out for a special lunch, bike ride, etc.

For the chart, one suggestion. Instead of one sticker for the day, break up the day in increments, so he can earn multiple stickers each day and see his own progress. It's more motivating at that age to get lots of mini-recognition. Another way to do it is to create a chart where there's a moving object (attached through velcro at different points) that progresses along during the day due to good behavior and it backtracks when there's bad ... the object crosses the finish line at the end of the day, reward.

Good luck!

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answers from Chicago on

See the link above. We use this chart for our 4 1/2 year old and have been using it since he was around 3. I'm actually considering getting one for my 2 1/2 year old.

Here's what we do...he gets a magnet for every item on the list that he does during the day. Some that we have...clear table, sharing, get dressed, no whining, show respect, don't use bad language (talking back). We make magnet time right after brushing our teeth at night and he looks SO forward to it.

If he gets ALL his magnets for the day, he gets a sticker (we've now upgraded to a quarter that we put in a jar to incorporate saving $, etc). For the longest time, having that special sticker showing he had a good day was all he needed.

During the day if he does something that would mean losing the magnet, we warn him. "If you don't share with your brother, you will lose your sharing magnet." I kid you not, 9 out of 10 times it puts him right in line. If we warn him and then he still doesn't respond - he loses the magnet at night.

It may take a bit, but once they get in a habit of it - I believe the reward chart can work wonders.

I also agree with the other poster who said it depends on the child. I have a feeling that our 2.5 y/o won't really care about a sticker/magnet! Lol. But, we're going to try.

Good luck!

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answers from Boise on

We use something like this for my son; we used cleaning up after himself (toys away, after meals), being dry all night long, dressing himself, and trying new food (he is a very picky eater) for the things we reward. Each thing has a point value, like being dry is two points where cleaning up is 1. He can then use his points to cash in for several things - 3 points is one half hour of Wii time, 5 points gets him a new book or trip to McDonald's, and 10 points is something he picks out from the toy store that is less than $10.

In terms of behavior, keep in mind that something needs to be rewarded INSTANTLY for small kids for it to really be rewarding. So, him only getting points if everything is perfect for a whole day is going to be really, really hard for him to see the true reward. That is why we have a point per "target" behavior. Just something to think about.

A simple solution might be that he gets the happy faces when he does it right, and for every X number of happy faces he can trade in for something from the prize bag? That way he earns those points faster, and then, once he is getting better, you up the "price"of the prize. Over time, as their behavior is rewarded, they start to feel good about it and the external prize of doing the right thing is no longer needed. Rather than reward "being a good kid" reward the BEHAVIOR you want to increase, like putting toys away, asking for things in a polite voice, etc. Feel free to message me if you want!

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answers from New York on

My Husband and I are wrestling with almost the exact same situation - 3.3year old son who is advanced in many ways yet this has caused a backlash of backtalk and behavior, some reward for the extra work we invested! Forget the terrible 2's they were the good old days of simple connection and harmony. Now we have an overdeveloped and skilled boy who is emotionally still 3 and has a new sister who is taking allot of mommy and me time despite dillegent efforts to fill that in.

We think you ides is a great start - suggest possibly reversing the reward with 7 starting tokens that are removed with each negitive event?

Would you use a dry erase board or grid for your chart - please show and example for others like us to follow and we will feedback any tweak suggestions.

Maybe bonus positives if all tokens are kept for that week.



answers from Chicago on

We had success with a similar chart. The reward was an outing or activity of his choice that included either one or both parents, also his choice.
What kids really want most is our attention.



answers from Detroit on

I don't have much help to give you. I just wanted to let you know that I am dealing with the same situation as you are. I also have a 3 and 1/2 year old son and a 6 month old. He acts fine when my husband or I are one on one with him but as soon as the baby is around begins acting up. I am also looking to make some kind of chart and reward system to hopeful help change his behavior.

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