The Behavioral Ferris Wheel of Toddlerhood

behavior modification chore chartFor every remark that I publicly make about something incredibly adorable that W has done there are 20+ moments where things are challenging. This is not anything especially unique to W. In fact I imagine that if you have or have had a toddler you know very well the ebb and flow of moods of these little short stacks.

W has always been a wonderfully emotional being. He loves in a huge way and he gets frustrated in a huge way and he gets sad in a huge way. This is who he is. He feels, but he also empathizes. I can not tell you how thrilling it is to see him adore someone or something.

Where things become difficult is when the emotions are so large that they go beyond his words or ability to express himself without being physical.

He has a sweet fondness for a friend at school’s little brother. He has watched this baby grow and he gets so excited to see him waddling about on the playground. However I have to keep a careful eye on W to make sure he doesn’t get TOO excited. W’s enthusiastic hello is fine for a kid that matches W’s size, but this wee guy is just a wee guy and a bear hug from W would be a disaster.

W’s size is also, for lack of a better word, an issue, when he gets frustrated. There are no small gestures. He erupts.

His teachers at school have been amazing at guiding him into better ways to cope with his emotions when they become too large for him. He is slowly starting to connect the dots when it comes to actions and reactions. When I pick W up from school I hope so hard for a good report. Good report for us would be: no time outs, no hitting, listening, following directions, sharing…

We talk a lot about his days. We go over events, if there were any, and how he reacted vs a better way to react. When he is calm he gets it. It makes sense. But in the moment, well, it isn’t always so easy. And I get that.

Before the holiday break W’s teachers told me that they wanted to try to do a rewards system with him at school. They recognize that W responds to rewards for good behavior vs time outs for not good behavior. Since I knew they were going to be doing this at school I decided to do a similar thing at home. W loves a job, an assignment, and being a helper.

I created a chore chart for him that really is just a list of all of the things that W does during the day – but with a twist. Instead of just “eat breakfast” it is “help with breakfast”. It is less about the task and more about HOW he does the task. No sticker is given for just eating cereal, but he now knows that if he cleans up his bowl and puts things away at breakfast that he does get a sticker.

This has been SO HUGE for us. Now W says stuff like, “I am going to play with all of my cars and when I clean up I can get a sticker!”

At every meal we sit down and go over the chart: I put stickers in the boxes and we talk about what else is on his list for the day. We tally up how many stickers he received each day and we work towards a BIG PRIZE. Last week his goal was 25 stickers to get a chocolate banana smoothie from WaWa. Now we are working towards a visit to the aquarium.

This week I picked W up from school and was so thrilled to hear that he had a wonderful day. The look on W’s face was poetry. He just beamed with pride and happiness. Is every day a wonderful behavior day? No. But there have been so many more wonderful behavior moments. I am so thrilled for and proud of him.


  1. Love this. Yay W!

  2. Thank you for detailing this chart a little more. I have been wondering how that would look for a toddler. Where I am lacking in creativity, I know my Internets are overflowing.
    I am so glad that W is doing well with this system.
    And I love the phrase “the look on W’s face was poetry.” Beautiful!

  3. My younger son reacts so much better to positive reinforcement than to hearing criticisms. It took a while for us to realize that, but now, just by phrasing things a little differently, it has made a huge difference. Go W!

  4. So loving this post right now. Great reinforcement tactics!

  5. Beautifully written! I am experiencing the same thing with my 5 year old. She is very affectionate in her loving and also very explosive in her frustration. When we do not hear her correctly and repeat the wrong words back, she cries and kicks. Talking through it and helping her learn to breath and problem solve the situation has helped. I always praise her problems solving skills whenever she works through a problem and finds a solution!

    Love the chore chart idea. Reinforcing his helpful behaviors!

  6. Yay Stickers!!!! love how little ones love the little things.

  7. I just decided to do a chore chart for Elizabeth and started looking for one that I liked. But the part that really stuck with me from your post today? I really miss WaWa. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  8. It’s sometimes a revelation when you ‘get’ them. I love that he’s responding so well to this!

  9. It’s always a joy to find the thing that works for your kid – whether it’s the positive (yay! stickers!) or negative (in my case, removal of favorite stuffed animals when behavior goes beyond the pale), it’s such a relief to find a strategy…

  10. I might just implement a similar strategy with my oldest son. He will be 7 next month, and while he’s always been freakishly well behaved, our trouble lies with motivation… or dare I say :::laziness:::

    Getting him to even pick his own socks up offthe floor, is opportunity for disaster (disaster on my part mostly, since I get so easily frustrated when I’m so used to him ehaving so well any other time)

    CJ got a Meep! For Christmas. Its basically an android tablet, designed for kids. In order to download games, books, or movies, the child uses special coins, that are earned and distributed by the parent how they see fit. I’ve already explained that he will be expected to earn the coins, but have been stuck as to what “type” of chores or tasks to give him.

    I really like your idea of rewarding for daily duties that aren’t necessarily “chores” so to speak

  11. I love you guys! This is the best.


  1. […] are still using an incentive chart at home to help inspire good behavior. There are still rocky days, but it has been helpful to have […]

Speak Your Mind