Back in February, my husband and I introduced the kids to a new way to reinforce good behavior. In short, it works like this. Good behavior is rewarded with a marble, which is equivalent to five minutes of screen time. Poor choices cost the kids marbles.
It’s really worked out so far! We were struggling for months to get Mr. 4 year old to stay in his room after bedtime, and that problem has resolved itself. (It may be in part because he’s home 24/7 now and typically doesn’t nap in the afternoons anymore either.) It has helped them adjust to new routines as we’ve shifted to homeschooling and pick up more chores around the house. If they want TV time and don’t have enough marbles, they will ask for things to do to earn them. I’ve had my windows cleaned, dishes done, laundry folded and put away, and many books read to me.
Although we started out rewarding pretty much every good behavior we were shaping in the kids, we have started incrementally awarding marbles now. For instance, the kids started out getting a marble every time they cleared their own spot at the table. Now that the habit’s formed, they don’t get a marble for that anymore. But, my boys are clever, and they have started clearing the entire table. If they do that without asking for a marble, we’ll award one.
There were a few unintended consequences that have amused me though.
- The kids are exceptionally good at counting by fives now.
- My husband is as generous as Oprah. “You get a marble! And you get a marble! And you get a marble!”
- Both kids have learned about negative numbers when they lose marbles they haven’t yet earned. Mr. 7 year old has started saying, “Ah man, I’m in the pit!”
- The kids were willing to, as they say, “waste their marbles” as soon as they earned them. We had to start enforcing that they had at least three marbles before they could “cash them in” and have 15 minutes of screen time.
I’m excited that we’ve found a currency that matters to the kids. (I was all about raking in the money as a kid, but I can adapt to screen time instead.) We’ll be sticking with this system for the foreseeable future.