The Marble Jar

I saw a post online a while ago about preventing whining. By using a marble jar.

I was intrigued.

Whining wasn’t my problem at that moment, but I did have a problem. Somehow, I had gotten into a horrible habit of repeating myself with my kids. Like most problems in parenting, this one snuck up on me. Normally, I tell the kids what to do, they do it. But you know how it happens, you’re tired and don’t follow through when you tell the kids to do something and they’re like, “Aha, I smell weakness, let’ charge!” Ok, maybe that’s a little dramatic, but kids do thrive on consistency and when I diverge from that they think, “lets try that again, it was fun!”

But by the time I noticed this bad habit, it had gotten out of hand and my patience was failing me. I didn’t want to punish them for what was at least partially my fault, but I wasn’t willing to give in to constantly having to tell them a half dozen times what needed to be done. So I decided to give the marble jar a try. The goal, to reinforce the kids for every time they DID follow directions the first time.

Step one, I let the kids know that this was something we were going to be working on. I showed them the jar and let them know how they would get marbles. It’s pretty easy. You obey, you get a marble. Both my kids LOVE positive reinforcement, so they were game with very little selling. Your kids may need the step two to get excited.

Step two, I talked to the kids what they would get. Initially, the marbles in the jar, are just that, marbles in a jar. But once the jar is full there is a reward for the consistency of improvement. In my case, we have a box of trinkets, some new, some used, that the girls got to pick from once the jar was full. You can use whatever currency that your kids work for. The benefit is that the cost can is basically zero, but the attention they get is priceless.

Lastly, I also had a consequence for when they didn’t follow through the first time. You may or may not chose a consequence, but I think it’s necessary. In my house, I’m against taking away the marbles. Obviously, they don’t get marbles for not being obedient, but to take away marbles, in my opinion, makes the process less about improvement and more about perfection. So the consequence I chose was early bedtime. On the wall we have the word, OBEY. I have each letter covered with a card. When the kids don’t obey, I uncover one letter at at time. If they get all letters uncovered, presto! Direct ticket to early bedtime.

The best thing is, they start over the next day fresh, and can pick up with gaining marbles, working toward the goal. Sometimes it takes them a week to fill the jar, sometimes more. But working toward the goal is a great secondary benefit that teaches them a little about life while saving my sanity too.


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