How To Improve Child Behavior in the Car

car child behavior chart

We have all been there, yelling and screaming and throwing out blank threats in the hopes of ending bad car behavior. Siblings can get on each other’s nerves even in the best of circumstances, the fact that they are confined together in a small space only makes it worse. Luckily, I came up with a simple idea that has helped to make car rides much more pleasant, by improving child behavior in the car.

Now that my oldest goes to a choice school, I have to drive an hour round trip every evening to get him. I have my three other boys in the car during this time and every day would end the same way. I would be a raving maniac by the time we got home because two of the boys would be fighting or otherwise misbehaving with each other. So,  I came up with a plan to make a mobile behavior chart with different “chances” to make better choices and with different levels of “consequences” if they made bad choices. Essentially though, whether they get a punishment or not is entirely in their hands. Literally, because they have to move the clothespin each time they misbehave.


  • Yarn or string
  • Scissors
  • Green, yellow and red crayons
  • Pen
  • Clothespin
  • Piece of white poster board
  • Something to outline a circle with.
Step 1: Trace three circles in the shape of a stoplight down the center of a piece of white poster board as shown in the picture above. Color the top one green, the middle one yellow and the bottom one red. 

Step 2: Draw three lines out from each of the large colored circles and draw a large dot at the end of each one as show in the photo above. Write in appropriate consequences on each line you have drawn. We chose to give three chances on green before a consequence would occur, but you can do it anyway you like.

Step 3: Write a reminder sentence on the clothespin in pen. I chose the phrase “Stop and think.” This gives the child a visual reminder that they have choices and need to stop and think about making the right one. 

Step 4: Cut a piece of string or yarn and thread it through two holes at the top of the piece of poster board. This will allow you to slip the behavior chart over the top of headrest on the back of the seat in front of your child. 
Each time your child misbehaves, tell them to move their clothespin to the next dot. This allows them to visually and physically be reminded that they are choosing their own consequences and leaves the ball in their court. Give it a shot and let me know how it works for you!



  1. Great idea! We need to do it in the house. They use something similar at school so they already know the concept.

  2. Exactly Maryann, the teachers here use the same type of method at school, so I figured it would transition into the car. We do not usually have problem in the house, just in the car where they know I can't reach them or watch them every minute.

  3. This is one area where I don't have a problem. I have an only child so he doesn't have anyone to fight with, and I've been very lucky that he's always been great to travel with. He reads, or plays his DS or iPad, or when I'm really lucky, talks to me. 🙂 But I can remember how my siblings are I were in the car, so I know how useful this could be.

  4. I have some who are great in the car Donna. My oldest just talks to me and my second oldest will usually be good, but the two youngest can get themselves into trouble and Jayden can get in trouble all by himself LOL.

  5. I really like the idea but i think it's more appropriate for our house. The boys are great in the car its the fighting in the living room I can't stand Uugh

  6. this totally reminds me of my daughter's class at school. Well they do something different in 2nd grade but in kindergarten and first grade my daughter would come home and have to tell me "what she landed on" and it was also green yellow or red. That being said, this is a great concept and one that I believe most kids would understand.

  7. This would be a good chart to laminate. Then you can write in the consequences with a grease pencil or white board marker. Love the idea of using the clothespin, too!

  8. Such a great idea to put a behavior chart in the car. Luckily, my girls haven't gotten that out of control, yet. But I'll keep this in mind for when they do because I'm sure its inevitable.

  9. I tried that route too Jenn, but then they just would argue over what movie they watched, who held the player, who couldn't see it etc. LOL

  10. Interesting idea. I only have one, so fighting in the car & such is not an issue. She sits back & enjoys the ride.

  11. very interesting idea.. i have never seen this before. My brother's kids are a riot in the car..will try this with them

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