Posted in Blog

An Update on Rewarding Kids with Marbles

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.

  1. The kids are exceptionally good at counting by fives now.
  2. My husband is as generous as Oprah. “You get a marble! And you get a marble! And you get a marble!”
  3. 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!”
  4. 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.

Photo by Crissy Jarvis on Unsplash

Posted in Blog

Reinforcing the Kids’ Good Behavior

Mr. 6 year old became Mr. 7 year old this week! I can’t believe our once tiny human who surprised us by arriving over five weeks early is now seven years old. My husband pointed out that Mr. 7 year old is now less than a decade away from driving. AHH!

In our house, aging up unlocks new responsibilities. I was a big fan of the fourth birthday because that’s when we said that the kids had to start wiping their own bums. We’d assist afterward, as needed, but serious training on wiping starts at four. I never wanted that job! Four years was enough.

With Mr. 7 year old’s birthday, we have started a new reward system for both kids. We’ve had reward systems in the past, like stickers for trying new foods or using the potty. I’m also not above paying my children to read. The going rate was a quarter per book.

Our newest reward system involves awarding the boys marbles for good behavior. Each marble is worth five minutes of screen time, a treasured reward. What I love about this system is that we can use the same system for every habit we want the boys to build, like brushing teeth, reading a book, or being kind without prompting. Every good behavior earns them a marble.

I’m hopeful that the system will stick. I think it will because the system has us looking for good behavior. We want the kids to be successful, so my husband and I are always on the lookout for behavior we want repeated. By recognizing good behavior (using the screen time currency the kids love), then we’re giving positive reinforcement to the establishment of good habits. I liken it to the gratitude movement that suggests taking time each day to recognize what you’re grateful for will bring you more joy. By recognizing the good behavior we want to see, the boys will continue making good choices.

However, we’ve made it clear to the boys that what can be given can be taken away. The boys earned a few marbles last night as they cleared the table without asking and got ready for bed largely on their own. They each lost a marble though when they decided to get out of bed and horseplay after bedtime.

We’ve just introduced this system, so I’ll have to report back on our progress after a few weeks. So far, everyone in the family has jumped onboard. The boys are seeking opportunities to earn more screen time, and my husband and I are being generous passing out marbles as we start.

The real reason I want this system to stick is simple though. I amuse easily. It’s too funny picturing my husband or me in the middle of the grocery store or some other public venue telling the kids, “That’s it! You’ve lost your marbles!”