Behavior Chart for a Three Year Old

Updated on May 20, 2013
K.H. asks from Tempe, AZ
14 answers

Hi moms,

I want to make a behavior chart for my daughter this summer. I'm thinking of doing a sticker chart where she gets a sticker for good behavior and then a reward after she reaches a goal. My question is the logistics... What's a reasonable goal for a three year old? How many behaviors should I track? I want it to be meaningful but I also don't want it to be so lofty that she never reaches it. Some behaviors I thought would be good for her: Eating vegetables, picking up her toys, listening to Mommy and Daddy, etc. Thoughts?

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answers from Minneapolis on

Three year-olds live in the moment. I would suggest enjoying the moment with her. A "good job!" from mom is more effective than any chart or stickers.

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answers from San Francisco on

Too young? How about just have fun with her.

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answers from Albuquerque on

Three behaviors might be good. Honestly, at that age my girls weren't ready for a behavior chart. We started about a year ago when they turned five and it was still a struggle to keep them interested. They're generally well behaved, but just didn't really care if they got stickers or a prize at the end of the week.

So... give it a try, but don't be disappointed if she's still a bit young. Also - you need to make the goals more understandable to a three year old. Eating vegetables is ok, but how about "four bites of vegetable at dinner"? Picking up toys makes sense to me. Unfortunately, listening to Mommy and Daddy doesn't. (well, not when I try to think like a three year old). She's got so much interesting stimula coming at her at all times at this age that she probably things she IS listening to you, but she's naturally distracted so it doesn't seem like she's listening to you. Can you make that goal a bit more specific? "Answer Mommy's questions" or "Come when Daddy calls".

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answers from Portland on

I think at three, a behavior chart is a big, weird concept she is not likely to really understand. When my son was this age, I focused on giving positive feedback when I liked what he was doing and giving corrections when he needed help. Things like cleaning up-- he needed help with at this age, so we made it more of a game than a direction to 'clean up'. When he followed directions from my husband and I, he got a 'thank you for giving me your plate' or 'I liked how you put your shoes by the door, they look nice and tidy'' or 'you put all the dolls in their crib! high five!'... the praise needs to be specific to the action.

When my son was this age, I gave rewards in the moment, and made sure they were not toy rewards, but offering him a 'choice' privilege. For example, when a trip to the grocery store went well "you were so helpful and stayed right with me. Thank you! Would you like to help choose some fruit?" or "We got the room all cleaned up so fast that we have time for a game. Would you like to go pick one out?" What they really want, more than toys, is us, and when we can offer those sorts of 'in the moment' rewards, we teach our children that our good habits do sometimes pay off, thus helping them build an intrinsic sense of motivation. Instead of learning to do the task FOR the reward, they get a sense that doing the task IS the reward in and of itself. The room is clean AND this sometimes means we have time for a bit more fun. The shopping trip gets done so nicely AND because we helped make it happen, we get to choose something yummy. (You could even have her help you pick out veggies she likes as a 'reward' for being good company while you shop.)

For what it's worth, I didn't start any sort of charts for my son until he was 5, and I was needing to find some ways to acknowledge positive behaviors.. this was in order to change some negative behaviors. That's a whole other story, but the end 'reward' is doing something fun as a family, not toys or prizes.

You may also want to do some reading on the long-term effects of external rewards, too. I've found that there are some very definite pluses and minuses to them.... remember, too, if you do decide to use rewards, that you have to stick with it, because you are then teaching them to do something 'for' the prize.... if you take away the prize, they may not be motivated to continue to comply with expectations. Something to consider.:)

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answers from Denver on

I do a marble jar for my daughter who is also 3. Everytime she does something positive she gets to put a marble in the jar. It ebbs and flows in how much we use it but she loves putting the marbles in. She counts them out and then drops each one into the jar. I drew a line in marker on the jar and when the marbles reach that we do something special (she got a fish, got to go to a special place, whatever we are thinking about doing or needing we apply it...) This was easier than a chart for us because I could give marbles whenever I felt the need to focus on something positive. I wasn't tied down to rewarding for just those behaviors. I could also use it to say... want to earn a marble¿ It worked for us! I think it is always good to focus on the positive!

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answers from Portland on

I, too, suggest that she's too young to be able to associate the stickers with a reward after a week or period of time. However, she will appreciate getting and putting the stickers on the chart. You could try to reward but I suggest the stickers themselves are all the reward she needs. And....if she doesn't get the reward later concept then it would be hard to stop doing it. She will expect the reward but won't connect it to her behavior.

At this young of an age, the child's brain is unable to grasp abstract ideas. They need immediate reinforcement.



answers from Kansas City on

Well I don' t necessarily think she's too young, it totally depends on her personality. I guess the real question though is what exactly are you trying to accomplish...I mean is there like one thing that she is severely struggling with and you need to modify this behavior b/c it's practically ruining your life? Or you're just trying to teach her good behaviors and have her stick to them?

If it's the former, then I would suggest picking the one major behavior and making a chart that shows each day of the week. Let her put a sticker on the chart each time she models the correct behavior and after a certain number of stickers she gets a small could even be an extra TV show or a walk to the park or something.

If it's the latter, then I would suggest just doing a big piece of construction paper and putting her name on it or something. Then every time you catch her doing something good, or being helpful or kind or whatever, then she gets a sticker on the chart. Again after a certain number of stickers have her get a small "reward" like the ones I mentioned above.

I would like to add that although I think behavior mod charts are good and can be extremely helpful, it might not be necessary if you're just working on normal 3 y/o behaviors, unless she is particularly stubborn or unfocussed (like more stubborn and/or unfocussed than a normal a 3 y/o), but if you really want to do it, it can't really hurt so go for it and see what happens.


answers from San Francisco on

I don't think a three year old will really get the concept of a behavior chart, and if she does, she will likely lose interest quickly.
At this age it's all about teaching and reinforcing.
When she does something really well, you praise her. SPECIFICALLY you point out what she did,
I like the way you help mommy clear the table,
thank you for putting your coat on the hook, etc.
When she's not doing what she's supposed to, same thing,
we can't go to the park until you put on your shoes,
if you can't keep the paint on the table we'll have to put it away,
we can read an extra story if you get your teeth brushed now.
At this age it's all about teaching them, modeling and redirecting. You do it all day, every day, and over time it just becomes second nature, they learn to behave in a way that makes them, and you, happy.


answers from Norfolk on

Charts never worked for my son.
He just didn't care about them and some goal in the distant future (tomorrow is a mystery to a 3 yr old) was just too nebulous for him to work toward.
Story time was my son's thing.
He always got story time for bedtime but if he was really good he could earn extra story time.
There was nothing he loved more than snuggling up with me to hear me read a story to him.
One time he fell asleep in the middle of a story, so me and Daddy went to bed.
2am child wakes up and doesn't realize so much time has passed so he comes to our room with the book and wants me to finish the story.
He was not happy when I told him it was the middle of the night and too late for more story time.



answers from Tampa on

If you think your 3 yr old is ready for it...go for it! Is there a specific behavior you're trying to encourage or discourage?

It's not necessarily true that your daughter won't 'get' the abstract concept of rewards. They did behavior rewards in daycare at that age (they got to pick something out of the "treasure chest" if they didn't get any 'red' cards that week). We would also do something similar at home (going out for ice cream if she didn't "stall" at daycare drop off). She TOTALLY was able to grasp that concept. She would "remind" us all the time that we were going to go for ice cream and that she had been doing well on whatever behavior we were working on.

I would work on one behavior at a time. Give immediate praise for it, and have her put a sticker on. She gets a "big" reward at the end of the week. We try not to 'reward' for things like eating vegetables, picking up toys, putting her dirty clothes away, because those are behaviors that are already "expected."



answers from New York on

Our DS is 2.5. We've just put up a sticker chart for potty training. No rewards are tied into it, just the treat of picking a sticker and putting it on the chart. He's excited about the idea and, we hope with enough repetition, will get the hang of it.

Our kid gets the concepts "later" "maybe" and "first this then that." If yours has these principles down, then the delayed gratification of the charts might work.

Good luck to you and yours,
F. B.



answers from Oklahoma City on

A 3 year old can understand they did something wrong but associating a reward or some sort of sticker for that isn't going to go anywhere. They are supposed to be making lots of mistakes and getting taught that isn't the right choice they should make.

So work with her in the moment to realize she's doing a great job.

Today is a prime example. I was stressed out from all the tornado's popping down around us and my little guy didn't get his was agony for me.

We live in a mobile home and unfortunately must seek shelter away from home. So we spent the day in the ER waiting room at a local hospital. It was the only place we could go. He would yell and make popping noises. Everyone else there was also stressed so he was bothering others. I would tell him each and every time that I caught him being quiet "Hey, I noticed you're doing a great job sitting quietly, thank you". When he was trying to get up and run around like a crazy person I would have to restrain him somewhat. Then when he was taking turtle breathes and his muscles were relaxing I would tell him he was doing a good job breathing and I noticed he was starting to relax.

I tried to not get on him all day, it wasn't really his fault he didn't get his meds. Hopefully I was able to teach him something about getting good attention for good behaviors. If I had tried to do a sticker chart it would have been a waste of time and effort on my part.



answers from Orlando on

Not too young! I started doing sticker charts for my daughter at 3, and she was very receptive to it, she loved it! It was at age 4 she started saying "well I didn't want the sicker any ways" (ouch! hahah) and now she's 5 and we haven't done one, well, since she was 4! Lol..but coincidentally, I was just thinking about it again tonight! Anyway, I would start with 2 behaviors at a time, and simplify the terms and expectations for her, instead of being task specific, this will be in your favor too. Example, "Being a good helper" (for picking up toys, and other things) and "Being a good listener" etc... these are good because a lot falls into these categories and she can earn stickers easily, which will build excitement and confidence... when she gets a hang of it, then you can try more specific tasks. Also start with a short amount of time, like 3 days then a small reward, if you go longer days she will lose interest and/or not understand, remember she's only 3 and their concept of time is much different than ours. We did trips to the dollar store and she got to pick something she liked. They have toys, books, crafts etc.. so super fun shopping for a 3 year old! Oh, I also had my DD help pick out the stickers, they have little books of them (where else?) at the dollar store! haha.. Her being able to chose the sticker to go on the chart was her favorite part ;)
Have fun, and good luck!



answers from Washington DC on

Too young. Just give lots of praise and lots of hugs for a job well done.

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