It was one long summer in our household, y’all. I know I’m not the only one who is slightly relieved that school has started. Even those of you who put sad face emojis on your status (cough, cough, liars) the first morning the kiddos headed out the door are kind of happy somewhere in that little smiley self of yours. And let me be clear: I realize it is possible to have a fun summer with your kids. But, I think that applies mostly to people who do not have three kids, six years old and under. I knew within the first few weeks that something would need to give, and as a result, came up with what actually ended up making our summer manageable: my jars.
I’m not the first and certainly not the last to use punishments (consequences) and rewards to attempt to mold my children’s behavior into something that resembles normal human interaction. But, I also realized that fine-tuning a reward/punishment system to meet my kiddos’ emotional and physical needs, was the golden ticket to success. I’m sharing this here with you as a way to advocate for personalized behavior modification. In other words, what works for one kid, won’t work for the other, but both consequences and rewards/validation/affirmation are important. Here is what I did…
I came up with about 20 different consequences for behavior I find less than acceptable. Anytime my children acted up, they got a verbal warning with a reminder that if they chose to continue the behavior, they would need to draw a consequence out of the Consequence Jar. I tailored the consequences to each child to get the point across. I place the emphasis on it being their choice to continue the less-than-desirable behavior and empowering them to stop if they want.
My six-year-old daughter’s worst nightmare is manual labor, which I found out through trial and error. So, there were plenty of labor-intensive options, like sweep out the garage, empty all the trashcans in the house, pick the weeds out of the backyard flower beds, and vacuum every room upstairs. At first, picking weeds sounded cute to her, and she was “done” in about five minutes. Plus, she noted, it’s hot outside. However, when I showed her what I expected and how the root needed to be pulled instead of the top leaves, the smiles stopped. Manual labor for the win. However, my four-year-old son is more about things and experiences, so for him, I loaded up on the “no animals at bedtime,” “no dessert tonight,” and the always-hated “no technology for two days.”
You want your consequences to be remembered and hated. Go too soft, and your kids will be excited they get to draw something out of a jar (trust me—this is how ours started out). The most important part of this, however, is your follow-through as the parent. The consequence doesn’t mean squat if you allow your kids to do a sub-par job and/or not finish the task. I believe the first “sweep the garage” took about an hour: 40 minutes of screaming that I’m “unfair” and “the worst,” and 20 minutes of cleaning out all the corners with her broom, followed by another 10 minutes of re-sweeping what she sloppily missed the first time. After that, she found drama-free sweeping was much more efficient.
My children soon came to realize that mom means business. However, mom also extends grace, which is why I included a “Lucky day! No punishment!” card. When they pulled this card, we spent some time talking about how God shows us grace for many things and so it’s important to show that grace to others.
On the other end of the spectrum is the Confidence Jar, which allows me to highlight great and out-of-the-ordinary kindnesses, positive behavior, or anything else I’d like to reward. I call it the Confidence Jar because I want my kids to have confidence in their decision-making abilities and choices. When they make a good decision and I see it, they gain a reward. However, this isn’t a reward for doing something you’re already supposed to be doing (e.g., “Hey Mom, I was a super good listener today at school.” Great job! But that’s what I expect of you, so no Confidence Jar). This is something I either catch them doing (sharing something with a sibling when that child doesn’t think I’m watching, for example) or a reward for patience during a long errand, extending grace or forgiveness to a sibling, etc. Also, if they ask for a reward, they don’t get one. It’s all parental discrepancy. This (hopefully) encourages my kids to be kind, honest, grateful—#allthethings—on a regular basis. Plus, it feels good to be rewarded and acknowledged. We all love that.
As far as the type of reward you give, that will differ from family to family. In ours, it’s a mix of monetary items, free experiences, and quality time, such as a trip to the Target Dollar Spot, a Sonic milkshake run, an extra book at dinner, a surprise visit to the library. Being allowed to pick all the songs during our car ride today, riding bikes alone with Dad, and dressing up silly for dinner have all made the list as well. The kids have a blast with these and feel so proud of themselves that they often FaceTime my husband at work to tell him the great news, and it completely reshapes our days together.
Kids love/need/want/crave routine and schedule. The fact that mine always knew they had one warning before having to draw from the Consequence Jar was incredibly helpful to me and my parenting. Follow-through was KEY. I can’t say it enough. When kids know to expect consequences, they can make choices more easily because they always know what’s coming. You act a fool, and I pinky swear you’re going to be sweeping the garage. (In fact, I think I’ve said that more than once, verbatim). And now she knows I mean it.
Since introducing the Consequence and Confidence Jars, I’ve seen remarkable progress (most days) in my children’s behavior and choices. Do they eradicate child foolishness and sibling bickering? Not a chance. But, it does help to have a plan. So, the jars sit on the kitchen counter and serve as reminders of the benefit of making good behavioral choices in our house and the drawback of making poor ones. I change out the selections every month or so, to keep things fresh and effective. However, the idea behind it works. You can do this with any age group and tailor it to your kiddos.
So grab a pen, start brainstorming things that would really make your kids crazy (it’s more fun than you think) and things that would make their world a better place, and write them down! Happy parenting!