Our daughter has always been very driven by rules and rewards. She loves to know what is expected of her and, when applicable, the end result of her behavior or activity. This made charts the perfect motivational method for her as she struggled with becoming a “big girl.” We used charts for everything, from going potty to sleeping in her own bed through the night.

The key to a good chart is to give the child ownership. Make sure that he or she gets to interact with it on a daily basis. The image at right is a facsimile of Camille’s “Sleep Chart”. For every night that she slept in her room by herself, without coming out to complain about her situation, she was allowed to color-in a dinosaur shape on her chart. When all of the shapes were filled, she was rewarded with a coveted Dinosaur Encyclopedia she had spied in a book store.

Theming the chart was the fun part. It provided regular reminders of what she was working toward. Every time she colored a dino, she would proudly state its species and the facts she remembered about the extinct critter. We made the morning coloring routine a big part of starting our day, always allotting enough time to give praise and watch her coloring performance. When she was done, it was re-taped to her door, where it stayed for the duration of the experiment (and even a bit longer as a continued celebration).

Not every day was successful; but she quickly got the hang of it and the book was hers within weeks. It was especially helpful when coming back from vacations, when routine would be disrupted by the convenience of a shared hotel bed or lenient grandparents.

While we haven’t resorted to charts in a long time now, it’s nice to know we still have this parenting trick in our back pockets. Household chores are bound to start any day now…