Observing & taking notes

9 Steps for Observing Your Child and Taking Notes

By Lexi Walters Wright

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Observing and taking notes on your child’s behavior doesn’t require special training. You just need to be consistent in writing and thinking about what you see when problem behaviors occur. These steps can help you figure out how.


Settle on one behavior.

Start out observing something simple (for example, morning crankiness) that you think your child will be able to change. Later, you can work on more difficult behaviors.


Select note-taking materials that are right for you.

Are you more comfortable jotting things down in a notebook or typing on a tablet? Choose the tool that makes it easiest for you to take notes and refer to them later.


Keep your note-taking tools near where you’re likely to see the behavior.

For example, maybe you’re trying to understand why your son comes home from school so frustrated. In that case, keep your notepad in the kitchen, where he always heads after school for a snack.


Observe first, then write.

If you try to watch your child and take notes at the same time, you probably won’t be able to focus on either task. After your child leaves the room, then start writing.


Note what happened before, during and after your child’s behavior.

The more specific your notes are, the more material you’ll have to work with as you analyze his actions.


Review your notes for patterns over time.

Two to three weeks should be long enough to let you see whether some factors repeat so you can spot trends. You may want to share your notes with your child’s clinician, too.


Explore solutions for your child.

The patterns you find can help you and your child brainstorm ways to manage his behavior. For instance, does he fight at dinner only if he doesn’t get to ride his bike after school? Maybe he can exercise before dinner and do his homework afterward.


Consider your own behavior changes.

Your observations can also help you figure out how to change your behavior to get better results. For example, if you know your child gets anxious talking about school on the car ride home, save those conversations for dinnertime.


Notice what does and doesn’t help.

After you discuss solutions with your child and start trying them out, observe whether they’re working. Yes? Keep at it. No? Try other solutions.

About the Author

Portrait of Lexi Walters Wright

Lexi Walters Wright is a veteran writer and editor who helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.

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Portrait of Mark Griffin

Mark Griffin, Ph.D., was the founding headmaster of Eagle Hill School, a school for children with specific learning disabilities.

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