I Hated the Clip Chart … Until it Actually Worked

Pre-K 4 wasn’t necessarily a breeze, at first. My son is on the younger end of the spectrum and had some social struggles which we worked through with the assistance of his amazing Pre-K teacher. I had almost forgotten the anxiety that I had, worrying about how his day was going and how he was getting along with the other kids. Like I said, we worked through it, so I thought it was done. Pre-K 4 ended up being such a wonderful year with so many leaps and bounds, both socially and educationally.

Then came kindergarten.

We were both so excited. This was going to be a great year. We have the sweetest teacher, he is familiar with the drop off procedure and structure … kindergarten success here we come!

Hello, Clip Chart!

I had seen some version of this all through my life – some use colors, some pictures, some letter grades, red light/yellow light/green light. The concept itself is not new.

I was an exceptionally well behaved child, shockingly driven and very shy. Even the thought of “flipping my card” would throw me into a full blown panic – partly because of my drive to always do my best and partly out of fear of the public embarrassment of “flipping my card.”

I can remember the kids who had to “flip their cards” often. The message given about this was “they are flipping their cards because they are bad kids.” I don’t ever recall a positive alternative being given to the negative behavior or any sort of discussion.

This is the history and baggage that I bring to the whole “clip chart” world.

So, here we are. Kindergarten Clip Chart Land.

The first week that notes began coming home in the agenda with the corresponding letter grade my child was gathering in conduct was a shock to my system.

And, I’m sad to say, we freaked.

Here’s a sample of the thoughts that went through my head:

“That teacher doesn’t understand him. She must be out to get him.” (Clearly irrational)

“Not my child! He’s an angel!” (Now I’ve developed a memory problem.)

“This clip chart nonsense is an abomination.” (cue me googling all the articles I could on the evils of the clip chart).

And here come’s my old friend, negative self talk!

“Crud, I’m raising a sociopath” (I really need to lay off the true crime).

“What are we doing wrong?”

“It must be too much TV. Get rid of all the TVs in the house”

“This wouldn’t be happening if you stayed home with him.”

I basically went down a self destructive rabbit hole.

So I took a deep breath and employed a little reality testing.

  1. Everyone has good and bad days. My job as a parent is not to prevent the bad days, but to teach my child how to cope with the bad days when they happen. We can’t be perfect every day and when we have difficult day, we learn from that and do better the next day.
  2. My child’s teacher is probably one of the nicest people I’ve met. She wants him to succeed. She is giving me specific feedback in order to target problematic behaviors that will interfere with learning and socialization. When I asked her for additional assistance, she gave it to me along with a very detailed plan for attacking the problem. To check out one of the articles she suggested, click here!
  3. The feedback I am given from the clip chart is giving me specific items to focus on at home and identifying positive alternatives. That is much easier to attack than “he was really misbehaving today.”
  4. The feedback that my child gets from the clip chart is immediate response to inappropriate behavior. Just like a puppy, if you don’t give direct and specific feedback to a child, both positive and negative, the impact gets lost.
  5. I asked my child if it was embarrassing to move his clip up or down. To my surprise, my shy child said “no, not really.”
  6. A lot of the negative feelings that I have surrounding the clip chart / conduct chart / whatever you want to call it, has a lot to do with my own baggage and my struggle to admit that there are so many things out of my control.

So, what is there to do?

I am nothing if not a planner and an organizer (in regards to life, don’t look at my house or car). We employed the following to address our new clip chart life:

Don’t freak out.

Repeat this with me. Don’t freak out. I talked to my child’s previous pre-K teacher, his kindergarten teacher, other parents and other teachers. Lots of kids struggle with the behavior targeted by the clip chart. The feedback is not meant to rule your world. The purpose is just to give regular feedback on your child’s behavior so that everyone, including the child, is on the same page. That being said, if the feedback is that your child has orchestrated a lunch money stealing ring and is holding everyone’s school supplies for ransom, go ahead and freak out. If it’s excessive talking or not following directions, calmly addressing the issues daily is sufficient.

Talk to the Teacher.

After our first week of clip chart disaster, I emailed the teacher in a panic. So much so that I misspelled her email address multiple times, so the email didn’t get to her until days after I intended. When she responded, she had a very specific plan to address my child’s behaviors both in school and at home. And, now she knows our investment in my child’s success.

Make your own chart.

At home, we now have a behavior chart that we employ to keep the self monitoring up from school. It’s just a sticker chart for the week. But, there is a lot of power and pride that my little guy gets from putting the sticker up when he gets an A. And, when that doesn’t happen, that prompts a discussion on what could be done differently. If the majority of the week goes well, then we have a special activity of his choosing that we go do on Saturday. So far, we’ve done the movies, SkyZone, and bowling (luckily all inside because ca fait chaud!). We have only had 1 week where we could not do the activity identified and he understood why and had motivation to change things the next week.

Did I mention, don’t freak out?

One of the most important things that my little boy and I do every morning before I let him out the car is reviewing important things to remember for the day: Please and thank you, keep your hands/feet/whatever to yourself, it’s okay to agree to disagree, etc. But, the most important thing is “Just do your very best” and that your very best is different from day to day. If I can remember this for me and him, then we’re on a better track.

I’m happy to say that we have started to turn the clip chart disaster into clip chart success! For that, I’m very grateful. The whole experience has taught me so much about me and my child. I think we’re both the better for it. This may not have been your experience, but it was ours and I hope our story helps you in your own clip chart journey!

Amanda Fuselier
Amanda is a native of Kenner, LA and is now an honorary Cajun. She is married to a psychiatric nurse, Joe, and is a hospice social worker so don't come to her house unless you are ready to talk about your feelings! Amanda and Joe are parents to Kael and Remy and furry parents to Luna and Spiderman. Amanda is all about that #boymom life and is enjoying wrangling her two wild men while checking out the wonderful culture of Acadiana and all of Louisiana. Amanda is a fan of all things yummy and enjoys a good cocktail. Her motto is "if I can't wear yoga pants, I'm not going".


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