What if the classroom behavior chart is a detriment to children? Is it fair to give a child a yellow card for talking aloud or spacing out in line when they have a disability like ADHD? These are the questions that came to my mind when my youngest daughter came home with tears in her eyes because she had a note sent home. My daughter is amazing, but it is hard to keep her feet on the ground or her butt in a chair. She occasionally spaces out and only hears us after the third or fourth time. These may be things she can’t control. So why do we punish children for having a disability? What does it do to their self-esteem? I see my own daughter frustrated and in tears because she is “bad” and “can’t go to the treasure box.” Would a teacher punish a child in a wheel chair because they couldn’t get to the line fast enough? I remember my youngest being in tears at gymnastics because her coach would scream at her to sit still. As hard as she tried, her ability to sit still was not comparable to a neuro-typical child. Imagine how it must feel to be screamed at for something not in your control. Needless to say, we moved her out of gymnastics and into tumbling and the coach was not there much longer.
I am not a teacher (but my husband is), and I am not singling out my daughter’s teacher because teachers all around the USA use behavior charts and incentives. Both of my girls have lucked out in the teacher department (this year included), and all of them used behavior charts or treasure chests. This is the first time I ever really thought about the impact of these charts on children with invisible disabilities. Please understand, I don’t think any child should be given free reign to do what they want in the classroom. My child should not have been a chatty Cathy. What I struggle with, is the negative self-talk that is starting to emerge because she actually wants to be a purple card student. Perhaps, the best choice is not to punish the child when their squirminess, chattiness or daydreaming occurs, but to reward them as they use the tools they have make better choices. Celebrating their success will boost their self-esteem and maybe soften the fall when they have days they struggle more. If a child is unable to control their impulses, they need to be reminded and steered toward correct behavior. The executive functions can be strengthened through practice, like a muscle. Eventually, the tips and tricks to stay focused become habit and alleviate some of the struggles with inattentiveness and hyper activity. Has anyone else had experiences with the negative effects of behavior charts? If so, how did you work through it?