Having highly structured methods—such as charts, strikes and tickets—helps to establish a framework for corrective discipline delivery. Here are several of my most popular discipline tools:

Charts are broken into daily or weekly for kids aged four to seven. Up to the eighth birthday, parents should begin with six-block daily charts. A single chart can be used for a week. Also, children can work their way up through different chart levels as their behavior progresses. Charts also help parents learn to be consistent in enforcing rules and expectations. Charts are not recommended for children under age four.

A child should have a margin of error. Remember, nothing discourages a child faster than a goal that seems unattainable—and not doing a Target Misbehavior (that by its very presence on the sheet is something a child does with great frequency!) would seem impossible. I recommend you start with a list of Target Misbehaviors. Keep the list shorter for younger children. For example, for a four-year-old, that list should have no more than three items. Parents should ignore—as much as they can—other misbehaviors unless the wrongdoing in question is really bad.

Daily Charts (Kids ages 4-7)

Here’s an example of Charts using Susie, a fictitious four-year-old. Susie’s Targeted Misbehaviors are:

  • Yelling at Mom/Dad.
  • Refusing to do what Mom/Dad tell you to do.
  • Chasing the dog around the house.

Susie’s six-block daily chart covers seven days, starting with Monday and going through Sunday. For each day, Susie has a margin of error of three, meaning she can do a Target Misbehavior three times before she starts incurring consequences on any given day. The three other blocks are privileges Susie will lose if Target Misbehaviors continue for that day.

Here’s how it works:

Parent identifies the misbehavior, i.e. “Yelling at us is on your list, so you’re losing a block.”
Parent then walks calmly to the fridge and crosses off the highest block for that day (if it’s the first one, it will be block number 6).
Once Susie loses her margin of error (three blocks), the next block (number 3) lost means she will be forbidden from going outside to play for the rest of the day. She can still have friends over or watch TV, but no outside play. If she loses another block (number 2), she loses TV and friend time for the rest of the day. The final block lost (number 1), means Susie is confined to her room for the rest of the day only coming out to use the bathroom, eat dinner with the family, do chores or leave the house with the family. Her bedtime is moved up at least an hour earlier. Remember, her room should be stripped of play value also.

In charts, privileges are lost in such that the first privilege lost is the one that gives Susie the most freedom (outside playtime). After that, subsequent privileges further restrict her movements until she ends up in her room with an earlier bedtime. (Note: Don’t worry if the child doesn’t go to sleep earlier, the purpose it that she’s in bed, lights out, earlier. She’ll likely bounce around in her room for a bit, but as long as the lights stay off and the noise level is tolerable, e.g. no screaming, throwing things, etc., then don’t sweat the actual sleep time.)

After the end of the first seven-day period, that Sunday night after Susie is in bed, her parents take down the old chart and put up a new one with fresh blocks so that, come Monday morning, they are ready for any misbehaviors.

Most kids master the six block Daily Chart in two to three weeks, which means they lose no more than three or four privileges over a seven-day period. In other words, the margin of error is generally enough to keep the child on the straight and narrow.

The beauty of Charts is that you can graduate the child to “harder” charts. After the six-block Daily Chart is mastered, move to a five-block Daily Chart, which looks like the six-block one, except there are only two “free” blocks. Or you can add another Target Misbehavior and keep the six-block Daily Chart. By upping the ante in one of these two ways, you ensure steady but gentle pressure is kept on your child to improve her self control.

After the five block Daily Chart is mastered—remember, this will take a few weeks—then move to a four block Daily Chart, which would have one “free” block. When Susie’s ready for a three-block Daily Chart, combine the “outside/friends/TV” into the number two block, keep the number one block the same, and give her the number three block as her free one. You always want to keep at least one block for a margin of error.

Because you’re targeting a child with High Misbehaviors, you’ll need 6 to 12 weeks to help her move from a six-block Daily Chart to a three-block Daily Chart. But keep on, be patient, stay the course, and never give up! She will get there if you keep to the program. Keep in mind that her behavior didn’t become this bad overnight—it likely gradually got worse and worse over weeks. So, too, is her rehabilitation.

Once she’s mastered the three-block Daily Chart, you have several options.

Stop the program because all Target Misbehaviors have been basically solved and Susie has learned good self control.
Up the ante by adding a misbehavior—one at a time at this stage—to the Target Misbehaviors.
Graduate your child to Weekly Charts, which is only advisable if your child has mastered the three-block Daily Chart and is age 6 or older. However, if you don’t have any specific behaviors to target, just end the program.

Weekly Charts (Ages 8-12)

Weekly Charts are for kids who are between the ages of 8 and 12. A 12-block chart is appropriate for the start, with at least 8 blocks free. No child should start the Weekly Chart program with less than 10 blocks.

Weekly Charts work the same way as Daily Charts except the child keeps the chart for a seven-day period and when the child reaches the block with the first privilege to lose, he loses that privilege for the rest of the week. However, please know your child. If he or she is one that you highly suspect will blow through the free blocks on day one, or hour one, then start with Daily Charts even if the child is 8 years old and older.

For Weekly Charts, your child shows mastery by not losing any privileges for a significant length of time, such as running through his margin of error blocks but not any privilege blocks until Sunday afternoon when he blows through 4 to 1. Mastery of the 12 block means graduation to a 10 block, with a margin of error of five blocks and five privilege blocks. Eight blocks will mean four free blocks and four privilege blocks. As the number of blocks get smaller, condense the privileges into fewer blocks. Most cases are completely solved by the time a child works his way down to 6 weekly blocks.

(This explanation of Charts is based on material that originated in John Rosemond’s The Well-Behaved Child.)