Abraham, Rachel, Soren and Liam. Our life together in Smalltown, Idaho.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

QIA: The Good Choice Jar

Issue to be addressed:
We wanted some of Soren's less-desirable behaviors to change.

A while ago Soren mentioned that more than anything in the world he wanted a toy vacuum. "Like Koen's," he said. "But cooler. Let's go to the store and get one." "Well, sweetie," I told him. "We can't just rush out and buy you a toy vacuum. "First of all, we don't have the money. Secondly, I think it would be good for you to earn it, rather than just getting it."

"But how?" he asked.

"I don't know," I told him. "I'll think about it and get back to you."

Abe and I discussed it and decided that rather than having Soren do chores around the house to earn money towards his toy, we would focus on helping him eliminate some of his less-desirable behaviors, particularly (1) hurting his brother and (2) ignoring directions from his parents.


I believe (and studies back me up) that punishment is not an effective way to bring about lasting change in children's behavior. My basic discipline philosophy is that children should be lovingly, firmly, and consistently guided, redirected, trained, and taught to make good choices-- not coerced or frightened into bending to the parental will. Does this mean that I don't ever send Soren to his room for hurting his brother? No. Does he get spankings sometimes? Yes. Do I feel bad about this? Not particularly. But I do try to use more positive techniques than punitive methods to teach my little guy about making good choices.

Which brings me to The Jar.

I borrowed a small jar and a bag of little rocks from my mother and showed them to Soren. I drew a couple of lines on the jar with an erasable marker. I told Soren that every time I caught him making a good choice, I would put a rock in the jar. "When you have rocks up to this bottom line," I told him, "We'll go to King's and get a piece of candy. When you get up to the next line, we'll get you a little toy from Broulim's. And when the rocks fill up the jar, you can have a toy vacuum."

The jar would only be for rewarding good choices-- he couldn't lose rocks for making mistakes. The only exceptions to this rule were (1) if he was caught putting rocks in the jar, we would take out more than he put in, and (2) if he asked for a rock, we would take one out.

Over the next several weeks, every time we saw Soren making a good choice, we would verbally praise him and put a rock in the jar. "Soren! Thanks for sharing your toy with Liam. I'm going to put a rock in your jar." "Soren, I'm glad you put your dishes in the sink without being asked. Now I'll put a rock in your jar." "Soren, I could see that you wanted to hit Liam but you stopped yourself. What a good choice. There's another rock for your jar." "Hey! You picked up your toys the first time I asked. Thank you! I think I'll put a rock in your jar."

I purposely put the first line low on the jar so that he could quickly catch on to the concept of getting rewarded for good behaviors. After the first week, we went to Broulim's and bought him a treat. We actually kind of forgot about the other on-the-way reward because Soren was pretty focused on that vacuum. He dreamed about the vacuum. He talked about the vacuum. He wanted that vacuum and began consciously working towards earning it by making good choices.

After about a month, he earned a vacuum. I saw a small (real) vacuum on sale at ShopKo that looked like it might be just what he wanted, so we went to the store, he picked it out, and we brought it home. He's been a vacuuming fool ever since.


It wasn't a miraculous overnight change, but I do see an increase in "good" behaviors from Soren. He treats his brother more kindly, usually puts dishes in the sink and clothes in the dirty laundry basket without being prompted, and generally follows directions without too much nagging. More importantly, I think he now thinks of himself as a good kid. We talked to him a lot about how great it was that he was able to make so many good choices, and he had a visual representation of those choices that he could see and understand on a very concrete level.

We don't want Soren to become dependent on rewards for making good choices, but the jar provided opportunities for us to reinforce his positive behaviors and help him get into the habit of choosing the right. We're not using the jar anymore, but we might bring it out again as needed.

(Lord knows there are other behaviors we could work on.)


Natalya said...

I was hoping you'd have a new post, yay! I'm impressed! Good job with the jar! I think I'll put a rock in yours!

heidi said...

Oh! He thinks of himself as a good kid! Aw. Maybe that's the worst part of punishment: that you start to concretely believe in your own basic badness. And that you're only good when you have proof and as soon as you screw up, you're back to your basic suckiness.

(That's maybe the worst part of punishment, but, the other part of punishment that depresses me is the idea of it working--I mean, you're right, studies say it doesn't, but sometimes it gets the behavioral results that adults want--but at what price? Making kids plugged into this concept that FEAR is the big motivator? That if they obey mindlessly they'll get what they want? How does that contribute to integrity--I mean, weren't the Nazis obedient? I like to bring up the Nazis. A way to de-escalate rhetoric, I've found. Anyway it seems like the whole punishment thing is depressing and designed to keep kids at the lowest level of Kohlberg's moral development scale. That attachment parenting thing your friend Kate does sounds much... cozier, somehow. I guess I'll get to test it out eventually!)

Anyway as I've been rattling on, I've been wondering--is your mom really really into glass jars and lots of little rocks?

So happy for you guys. Soren feels like he has a Good Boy Identity now!


Collette Smith said...

Where's the 'like' button???

Karen said...

Yeah! A well-behaved happy child AND clean floors? You're a genius!

Lara said...

Oh. My. Gosh. That is genius. Not only the whole process, but the prize was a vacuum! For someone else to vacuum with!


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