Behavior plans are commonly thought of as something specifically for children with ADHD, but they can actually be useful for any child with behavior problems or difficulty focusing on or remembering tasks. A behavior plan is basically a system of requirements and rewards- if your child performs the required tasks, then they can earn something of value to them. The point of this is that you focus on and reward the positive behaviors your child displays while ignoring the negative ones that you would like to stop.
If you find that you have to argue with your child for hours about doing simple household tasks, remind them multiple times about homework or projects, find that you have taken away all privileges but bad behavior is still occurring, etc. then a behavior plan may be a great idea. Here are some tips for creating a successful behavior plan:
- Make it visual. Make a chart that you can print out each week that lists the tasks/expectations on the left side and with the days of the week at the top. You could also use a wipe board that is kept on prominent display in the house, such as in the kitchen or living room. This way it is easy to remember to keep track of what your child has completed and earned and keep them motivated throughout the week.
- Keep it simple. A behavior plan will be difficult to implement if you get too crazy with it. It’s a good idea to focus on just one thing- for example, your child’s morning routine, a chore chart, or school performance. Perhaps you are having trouble with all of the above- but pick the most important thing to change to start out. Then choose five things to include in the chart.
- Be specific. It is important to be clear in the beginning about what the behaviors are that you want to see more of, and how to identify them. You don’t want to get into nitpicky arguments with your child about whether they met an expectation or not. For example, instead of the chart saying, “Be polite”, have it read, “Say please/thank you and use an inside voice.”
- Use a token economy. Each expectation on the behavior chart should be worth a certain amount that is agreed upon at the beginning. You can use tokens, such as poker chips, stickers, fake money, etc. Then each reward is worth a certain amount. Your child can “cash in” their rewards at the end of the week to earn privileges such as getting to go to a friend’s house, going out for ice cream, or getting a new toy.
- Make it age-appropriate. Behavior plans are typically thought to be for younger children, but can also be effective for high school aged kids. However, you don’t want to be patronizing. A teenager is not going to want to earn stickers and cash them in for toys. A great one for teens is a school behavior plan for which they can earn money for good grades. At the end of each semester A’s could be worth $50, B’s $30, C’s $10 and D’s and F’s worth nothing, or whatever you feel comfortable with as a parent.
- Tailor it to your child. Find out what it is that your child really wants. If you know he or she loves Transformers, then set a reward where your child can earn a new Transformers toy. If you don’t make sure that the rewards are things that your child actually wants, they will not have the motivation necessary to perform the tasks in the behavior plan.
- Follow through. For a behavior plan to be successful, it is essential for you as the parent to keep your word and follow through. Do not let things slide, forget to record your child’s positive behaviors, or give rewards when none have been earned. Consistency is key.
- Modify as needed. Your child’s behavior plan will not be perfect to start, and you may have to observe what is working and what is not and make changes accordingly. In addition, after a few months of doing well you may decide that your child is ready for a plan with different or higher expectations. The behavior plan will always be a work in progress.
Creating a behavior plan may seem daunting and even drastic, but with these tips it can be simple to implement and help both you and your child. If done correctly it sets your child up for success- not only can they get what they want at home, they will build self-esteem while doing it and learn positive behaviors that will benefit them in the future. If you need help creating a behavior plan for your child, Symmetry Counseling is here to help.
Author: Grace Norberg, AMFT