Displaying children’s behavior charts is risky business!

In the latest Bam Radio interview titled, “The hidden side effects of classroom management systems,” It was mentioned that displaying behavior charts on the wall of your classroom “is risky business.”  There are many reasons why this is risky business and I’m going to give you a few that comes from the interview as well as alternative approaches to behavior management that you might consider instead…

Stop Light Systems are Risky Business

Why is it risky business?

  • In the Bam Radio interview, Judith tells us that displaying any kind of behavior management system publicly is actually illegal. WHAT? Yep, you got it. Illegal.  This is because records of student progress whether it be academic or not are considered private information that isn’t to be shared with the public or displayed in public view.
  • A behavior management chart is essentially a progress report detailing a child’s progress on behavior. It should be a record that is only shared between teacher and child or teacher and parent. Let’s face it, at the end of the day, every child in the classroom knows who landed on the red light that day and its very possible that every parent, teacher, and administrator knows too.
  • A behavior management system, such as the stop light system or a sticker chart truly has one purpose – to control behavior. But along with a chart that everyone can see also comes public humiliation, labeling, bribing, and pressure on a child to perform.
  • “But Deborah, my students like the stop light system!” I tend to think that perhaps students get used to it and learn to roll with the punches but the reality is no one “likes” having their failures displayed for others to see. Sally elaborates in the Bam Radio interview by saying that if you were to walk into the teacher’s lounge and see a chart displaying your failure to perform on the wall, you would not be too happy about that one bit. You would have a choice to stay, leave, complain but kids are not given that choice.
  • Publicly displaying a child’s negative behavior ultimately destroys self-esteem and self-respect. It is degrading and doesn’t reflect true child development which needs to recognize all the small successes and failures that are a natural part of growing up. Growth and Development isn’t black and white or green, yellow, and red. Charts like the stop light system essentially indicates to everyone in the room that someone has failed today and there is no room for failure in this classroom or that someone has had a successful day and to be successful, you must be like everyone else.

The list really does go on and on as to why behavior management systems such as the stop light system or any other system that monitors behavior by publicly displaying progress is risky business. Be sure to listen to the Bam Radio Show for more details.

Stop Light Systems are Risky Business

Why I don’t use a behavior management system

Even with all the very good reasons shared above as to why visual behavior management systems should not be used in the classroom, I can tell you that my reason for not using one is not any of those reasons. I don’t use them because…

  • I would be terrible at it; behavior isn’t a right-or-wrong, red-yellow-green proposition. It is a learning process.
  • It doesn’t keep our classroom emotionally safe; the classroom must always be a place where children can work through issues, make mistakes, test limits and yet trust, without question, that they will be loved, supported, guided, redirected, respected, protected.
  • It doesn’t promote healthy and competent self-regulation skills; meaningful self-control and behavior management must come from somewhere deep within the child.
  • It targets the obvious but may miss the not so obvious; the problem isn’t the action being stopped with a red light that ultimately matters. It is instead  an attitude or developmental understanding that needs to be addressed in some thoughtful way so that life long habits of constructive and positive behavior can be promoted.
Building Community builds Success in Preschool!

Building Community builds Success in Preschool!

What are alternatives for behavior management?

  • For me personally, it is building a sense of community and promoting self-regulation from day one. Understanding that my role is to connect with children, to help them connect with me and each other, and through that connection we will build a safe place to play and learn together.  I will be sharing a workshop on Building Community in December (if not sooner) so be sure to check back!
  • Sally Haughey mentions on the Bam Radio interview her Safe Pockets behavior management system as an alternative approach. I haven’t read through the material but perhaps you would like to check it out. You can view an Overview of Safe Pockets here.
By |2017-01-11T01:38:39+00:00October 23rd, 2016|

About the Author:

Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. has been working and teaching in the field of early childhood education for over 30 years. Deborah currently owns and teaches in her own part-time, private preschool called The Children’s Studio. Deborah’s deep passion for teaching and working with young children is documented and then graciously shared with millions of readers around the world through her blog and other social networking communities. Deborah believes that young children learn best through play and exploration and embraces this belief in all that she does in her own classroom so that she can effectively and passionately share rewarding, real- life, tried-and-true practices with other teachers, parents, and leaders across the field of early childhood education.


  1. Krista October 23, 2016 at 6:40 pm - Reply

    I love your post about the behavior system. I am so against it! I thought I was alone with this. My school has the clip up, color cards, and the horrid reward system. Rewards work for some. I believe in self regulation and building the internal self motivation for behavior. I have seen the backlash of rewards when children either no longer care about the reward or the what do I get for being good?

  2. Margaret October 23, 2016 at 7:17 pm - Reply

    I loved your post about Children’s Behavior Charts. I have never been a fan of them. The best self-regulation program I have ever scene is Conscious Discipline by Becky Bailey. I would recommend using that for all teachers.

  3. vidhya Chetan Bal Vikas kendra October 24, 2016 at 5:48 am - Reply

    thanks for sharing your post with us,we will apply to this to ur school

  4. Emma October 28, 2016 at 12:12 pm - Reply

    Oh, how confirming it is to read this post! I’ve always had an issue with the behavior charts in my daughter’s classroom. They come home with a color each day, and even in kindergarten she would say things like, “I got red today. I’m one of the bad kids.” I’m not an educator or a childhood professional, but I knew there had to be a better way!

  5. hilde stroobants November 2, 2016 at 7:38 am - Reply

    Verry happy with this post. It reminds us that being an educator also means teaching children that we (and they) can be discrete about others and need to show respect for those around us, especially if they are dependent on us. Prevention of problem behavior by providing children with the necessary skills for adequate behavior will last longer than any trafic light system. Beautiful case to have my ECE teacher education students reflect on next week.

  6. Patricia omer November 3, 2016 at 12:48 pm - Reply

    I was a Special Education teacher for 12 years. These charts were very harmful for many children. In school they were humiliating and often escalated difficult behavior. Often at home, children were punished by parents because they did not understand that it often did not mean the child was “bad”. I often used the PPT process to move these behavior charts from kids program and we would see remarkable improvement.

  7. Katy July 9, 2017 at 4:55 pm - Reply

    I couldn’t agree more. I went from teaching in a Montessori preschool where the child’s self esteem is valued and respected, the child is taught to behave well for their own sake not to win approval from adults. I later taught at a public school where that color system was used and refused to use it. I expected the children to behave , when there was an issue it was handled with natural consequences and respect.

  8. Patrisha Lussier July 13, 2017 at 5:59 pm - Reply

    Thank you for posting this article! I completely agree. When I first started teaching 25 years ago, I saw children give up quickly with these types of charts and then behaviors would escalate. So many consequences to these charts. Children do so well with positive reinforcement and feeling they are part of the group, part of a team. Thank you 🙂

  9. Dennis D. Embry, Ph.D. July 16, 2017 at 8:11 pm - Reply

    This post raises several important points: 1) potential violation of FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), and 2) potential iatrogenic effects on children. As a child psychologist, former special education teacher, and a leading prevention scientist in the United States, clip charts make me very queasy and worried about causing increased externalizing problems and internalizing problems in kids.

    In our work with the PAX Good Behavior Game, we have multiple randomized-longitudinal studies that explicitly measure for adverse effects and positive benefits, as good intentions can harm. It is not necessary to use clip charts, and the data from comparative effectiveness trials and systematic replications show that there are far better ways to improve children’s behavior,


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