A Behavior Plan for Children That Really Work: Strategies for Parents on Using Behavior Cards

Common Mistakes Parents Make with Discipline

There are several common mistakes parents make when devising a behavior plan for children. The first is simply having too many rules. Parents are often bombarded by situations which require behavior management strategies. How does the parent typically react? By devising a rule to cover it. The problem, however, is that all of these rules can begin to sound like nagging to a child and they simply tune it out or forget about the new “rule” until the next time they break it.

Another common mistake parents make is having a system which is too complicated or elaborate. This often causes inconsistencies in how discipline is enforced. For instance, using a special “time out chair” only works if you are always at home. What happens when you are away from home? Going to bed right after supper sounds like a great way to discipline a child who has misbehaved…but what about his homework that needs to be completed? What about her team soccer game scheduled from 5-6 p.m.? How often have you given a specific threat, only to discover a few days later that you completely forgot to carry it out? I dare say, you are not alone.

These common mistakes can be avoided by using the same sample behavior plans for children used by teachers around the country. This card system is easy to use and will provide the consistency you need to put an effective behavior management strategy in place at home – today!

Getting Started

Begin by devising three or four simple rules that cover every situation, and are therefore more likely to be remembered. For instance, many discipline problems can be avoided by following these three simple “rules”:

  1. Follow directions the first time they are given.
  2. Keep your hands, feet and objects to yourself.
  3. Be courteous to others.

Now that you have your rules in place, it is time to begin making the cards which will be used to discipline your child(ren). Here is what you will need to get started:

  • 6 note cards per child (one each in green, yellow, red, purple, orange, and pink).
  • Card box for each child. This can be made by taking a school milk carton, cutting off the top to leave a 5-sided box, and gluing magnet strips to the back so that the box may be hung from the refrigerator.
  • List of rules (see suggested rules above).

The cards should be labeled in the following manner and placed in the card box (five cards per child) so that the writing can still be read:

  • Green – Draw a large, smiling face at the top with the words “You are doing great!” written underneath.
  • Yellow – The word “Caution” should be written at the top, with the words “You have my warning” written below.
  • Red – The word “Stop” should be written at the top, with the words “Go to a corner” or “Go to your room” written below. (Note: Sending children to a corner when they misbehave – to consider their actions and have time to gather themselves – works better than having a special “time out chair” or even sending a child to their room. Why? The answer is simply. Wherever you go, there is almost always a corner – be it the grocery store, grandma’s house, the local gym or your own home.
  • Purple – The words “Lose Privileges” should be written at the top, with a list of potential privileges to be lost written below.
  • Orange – The words “Severe Clause” should be written at the top.
  • Pink – The words “Above and Beyond” written at the top, with the words “You make me proud!” written below.

How It Works

Children begin each day with their green card at the front of the pack. The cards will be prominently displayed in the special card box, so that your child(ren) will be well-aware of the fact that they are “doing great.”

The first time a disruption occurs, your child should be given a verbal reminder of whatever negative behavior they are exhibiting, the rule that corresponds, and the positive behavior you would like him/her to exhibit instead. Part of the procedure in this behavior plan is that the child should also be told what will happen next if they decide to continue not following the rules. This next step would be to move the green behavior card to the back of the pack – revealing the next one, which is the yellow “Warning” card.

This exchange might sound something like this:

Mom: “Alex, I see that you have not started your homework yet. One of your rules is to ‘Follow directions the first time they are given.’ I asked you to get started on your homework 5 minutes ago. I would like you to stop watching TV and get started on your assignments. If you choose to continue this behavior, the next step is that I will ask you to flip your card, and you will have my warning” (or go to your room, or lose a privilege…depending on which card is next in the line-up.)

Alex: “Okay, Mom.”

Let’s imagine, that Alex continues to watch TV, or engages in another negative behavior which is against the rules – like grabbing a toy away from his sister. The next exchange would sound something like this:

Mom: (calmly) “Alex, you just grabbed that toy out of your sister’s hand…without asking for permission to see it, first. In this house, our rule is “Be courteous to others.” Grabbing a toy from someone is not being courteous. Please go over and flip your card to yellow. You now have my warning. The next step is that you will flip your card to red, and you will be asked to go to your room until you are ready to demonstrate appropriate behavior. Now I suggest that you apologize to your sister and get started on those homework assignments.”

Alex: “Yes, Mom. Sorry, Sis.”

This procedure will continue throughout the day. With each disruption will come more significant punishments, as laid out by what you already have written on the cards. The purple card is technically the last card in the line-up. Here is where you have listed privileges to be lost. If negative behaviors continue, the child will lose more and more privileges. Privilege loss can be for the day, or any other amount of time warranted by the behavior.

Exceptions: The Orange and Purple Cards

There would be only two exceptions to this procedure. The first would be the orange card – or the “Severe Clause.” The Severe Clause is available when the disruption is significant or dangerous – either to the child or to others around him. Examples might include throwing something heavy at another person, hitting another child or using foul language. In this case, the child does not receive a warning or loss of privilege. Instead, he or she is sent directly to their room as a punishment.

The second exception in this behavior plan would be the pink card – “Above and Beyond.” This card is used to recognize positive behavior that really goes “above and beyond” what is typically expected. Your child would be rewarded with this card when they have done something extraordinary. Examples may include helping a sibling who is hurt, volunteering to help with extra chores, or spending significant time playing with a younger sibling without being asked. The pink “Above and Beyond” card is a nice way to recognize and reinforce a child’s good behavior – which is just as important as correcting inappropriate behavior.

Encouraging Children to be Responsible for Their Own Behavior

The card system serves as a visual cue for children to monitor their own behavior and progress during the day, which is the goal of any sample behavior management plans. By having a set procedure for discipline in place, you are sure to avoid the common mistakes parents make when trying to discipline their children, and eliminate the power struggles which can make homework time difficult for everyone.