Stop Using Behavioral Charts on Children

It seems almost shocking to me to find out, but yes: behavioral charts are still used on children, as young as 3 years old.

I did know this, because it happened to my daughter. Maybe I just forgot it’s a thing? But I was reminded it’s still happening when a mom asked me for advice with her 3.5.1 year old. Her child was coming home with a sad face on her behavioral chart every day.

I told her my advice tends to not resonate, because I want to rain hell on anyone still using behavioral charts on children. And 3.5.1 is one of THE HARDEST AGES. I document the age-related “stages” children go through. You can see them on the main site of this page, These stages are times when children act out but on the other side of this behavior is an astonishing burst of new ability. I recently went through and pinned down the behavior down to the day, as I am currently building an app for the milestones. I had to decide what days are “intense” and which ones are “most intense.” I wanted to double bold this age of 3.5.1 as it’s that hard. It’s hard and it’s one of the longest ones, too.

Three Year Old Milestones. Milestone 8A, 3.5.1, is one of the hardest and longest intense periods.

You can see my work at the main page of this site. I have a downloadable PDF summarizing all the milestones: The Observant Mom Child Developmental Milestones.

My basic message about these developmental stage is that they happen. I call them “milestones”–they are like an immovable rock. They are also a milestone in their own right–they are accomplishments. At any rate, you can’t stop them. Children’s wild behavior is natural, even necessary. This is the idea behind my book series about this, Misbehavior is Growth. They aren’t “just” stages: it’s growth! The longstanding advice has been to “ignore” the stages. I’m saying to see them as a clue. Something big is going on. Children become clingy and demanding for a reason: they want our mentorship. Lean into and work with the behavior.

And we, adults, should take the responsible role in this. We do not–we cannot–ask children to change. I am opposed to behaviorism in its every variant. When we hand our children off to other caregivers, the caregivers should relieve our burden for a bit. They should handle the children’s behavior wisely, not expect calm, obedient children. There is literally nothing you can do to stop or “fix” this behavior. My book on 3 year olds especially takes the idea of “fixing” children to task by challenging its philosophical underpinning: blank slate theory, the idea we can form our very child’s character. We can’t. They are largely born with their own natural character, personality, and talents, and the stages they go through are utterly necessary. They need to be the wonderfully wild creatures they are no matter where they are: at home, at school, at soccer practice. Our cultural attitudes should shift to working with this wonderful apparatus that works to develop their internal growth, not against it.

Literally my advice for a 3.5.1 year old child is “hold on for two weeks if you can.” A few lessons here or there might help. If they are throwing DVDs around, show them how to put them into their case. Hands-on experiments can help. Otherwise, this is the pep talk I wrote to myself at this age,

“Parents should expect spills, falls, and aggression, and they should have a dedicated, loving philosophy of how to approach it. I don’t think many parents are willing to admit what I just admitted about how irritated I really did get. That’s part of the problem, and why I write about it also. I want others to know: you need to expect it, you need to expect it, you need to expect it. Then better solutions become possible.”

This pep talk appears in Misbehavior is Growth: 3 Year Olds

And after I told the mom all this, I was surprised she told me my advice did resonate and was helpful!

The use of behavioral charts is pointless. It gives parents a deep feeling of frustration and shame. It communicates very little and resolves nothing. Their use doesn’t stop until parents speak up. Sure, you can influence your spouse or others by talking to them. But when it’s daycare, you feel intimidated. You don’t want to be “that” parent, who then might have your complaint taken out on your child. Perhaps send this article to your school. Don’t send it to the teacher, who probably is doing what they are told. Send it to the administrator or the head of sales. Tell them what you want as a consumer. And if this isn’t possible, I think we might start asking ourselves why we feel so powerless when it comes to our children’s education.

I break down age-related development in my book. I show you how you can lean into these stages. I don’t promise constantly calm children. I don’t. But if you understand the stages, I find it is pretty powerful for bringing the overall frustration of children down to at least manageable levels. When we understand what’s going on behind the behavior, we can understand it and even use it to deal with children. We might know when a silly story or game will work or when a clear lesson will work. We can also do what seems to be the special sauce in parenting: parenting intentionally. We can focus on their growth. We can take away all that frustrating behavior, calm down our emotions, and focus on the amazing growth in our children.

While authoritarian approaches seem to work on young children, they will continue to break down as children get older. We cannot remain militaristic or unattached with children. The longer we try to have “good” children, caving to the pressures of society, the more it will backfire in our face, exploding especially in the teenage years. Investing in their growth now, by being Present and Attuned (what I describe in Misbehavior is Growth: Toddlers, the 2nd edition) is well worth it. It starts with calming down our emotions as parents. And this starts with taking off the pressure on parents to have “well-behaved” children. And increasing this panic is all that behavioral charts is doing.

My Misbehavior is Growth series now has two books! The toddler book goes from 18 months to 3 years. And the three year old book covers age three. I offer many ideas of how to handle children, while still respecting their development, that can be used by parents and caregivers alike. Please share.

Amber documents the age-related stages children go through. Send your friends to The Observant Mom.

Leave a Reply