How Do I Use an Observation Journal?

An observation journal is a powerful tool to use when trying to determine and understand behavior. You can use it to chart moods, manners, how many times your child yells, or goes to sleep without crying.

The key to a good entry is to note behaviors, NOT the emotions. When you add emotions, you add bias.

How To Make Your Own Journal

Designate a small notebook to keep as an entry log with columns. You need columns for the following information:

1. Date/Time

2. behavior

3. context

That's it! The first time I used a journal was to document my daughter’s behaviors. She kept doing odd things, and everyone told me not to worry. For example, I wrote:

1. She will not flush the toilet. Covers her ears if I flush it while she is in there.

2. When she walks through the house, she turns on every light on the way. This includes closet lights and neighboring lights.

3. At the Christmas program, the teacher told them to speak loudly into the microphone. She could not get her to do anything but yell into the mike. She was doing what her teacher had told her.

I did not talk about how I perceived she felt about the toilet, or the fear I felt was associated with turning on the lights in the house. I simply observed the behavior as noted it as it happened. In my case, I ended up with three pages of observations. It turned out to be a valuable assessment tool.

When I took my observation journal to the pediatrician , I told her that everyone thought I was crazy. I handed her the journal, fully expecting her to laugh at my worries. She didn’t. She made a copy for her file and suggested that we begin to investigate the causes of the behavior. The next week we began the first of many evaluations at the Children’s Hospital.

How can the Observation Journal Help?

If you are concerned in general that your child is not progressing or meeting milestones, you can use the observation journal to show your doctor. You observe and note the behaviors that concern you, being as specific with date, time and occurrence as possible.

Involving Your Child

There are times when involving your child can be a great learning tool. They must be old enough to understand in their own way the whole concept of tracking and improving behavior.

This month, I will use the journal to try and understand mood swings. I have specific goals, and am very hopeful that by the end of the week I will be able to determine with some degree of accuracy when her moods shift, why, and how we can address those shifts together. I will involve her in the process at the end of the week, and week two will be spent reviewing her progress in improving her target behavior each day.