How to Observe and Record a Child's Behavior

Observing and recording a child's behavior can provide parents with clues about a child's development, strengths and weaknesses 1. It can help parents gain valuable information about how a child thinks, feels, learns and reacts in a variety of situations and environments. When you effectively observe and record the behavior of your child, you learn more about her and how she reacts to the world around her.


Develop focus questions. What are you trying to find out about your child? Write down some questions that you hope to answer or learn about through observation. A sample question might be: "How does my child handle conflict or conflict resolution?".

Consider the circumstances in which you will observe your child. What environment will be most effective for your focus questions? Decide if you want to observe your child at home or in public, in a group or independently.

Divide a piece of paper (or several pieces) into three sections to create a note sheet. You can also print out a chart with three columns. Label the first column "Time," the second column "Observation" and the third column "Comments."

Find a spot to sit or stand in proximity to your child. Get close enough so you can hear what she's saying but not too close that you interfere, advise Dorothy H. Cohen, Virginia Stern and Nancy Balaban in "Observing and Recording the Behavior of Young Children." 1

Observation and Recording

Note the time that you are observing your child in the first column.

Write a few sentences about the context of the situation at the top of the Observation column on your note sheet.

Write down what your child is doing and saying in the Observation column. Capture as much detail as possible. You can write in note form and abbreviations in order to record quickly as the action happens. Write in present tense.


Write down any comments you might have about what is happening in the Comments column. If you recorded that your child keeps reminding his friend about the directions of a game, you might comment that he seems concerned that his friend will not follow the rules. You can add comments after you have recorded all observations.

Look for clues in your notes, after you have finished recording and commenting, about the following five categories: the child's physical presence, disposition and temperament, connections with others, interests and preferences, and modes of thinking and learning.

Assign a color to each category and color-code your notes with colored pencils to underline different words and/or phrases associated with each category.

Split all your color-coded evidence into the five categories and look for patterns of behavior. Review all your blue underlined sections and see if you notice a repeated behavior, such as frequent yelling, that might suggest a certain habit, such as a quick temper.

Organize your notes and formulate answers to your focus questions. You may need to do several observations to gather enough data to analyze. A conclusion might be: "My child tends to be temperamental when playing certain types of games. He doesn't seem to have much patience with friends and needs some practice with peer interactions."


Try observing your child in a variety of situations, using the same focus questions.

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