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Music fills their room most of the time, though they've been known to fall in love with stories on CD. Even when they're listening, their voices and dancing feet tend to carry, along with noises I know by heart — jumps from a step too high on the bunk bed ladder, the dragging sound of the dollhouse moving across the floor.
When the voices hushed and movement stopped, I paused, knowing silence isn't always golden when it concerns a 6-year-old and 4-year-old. I was chopping vegetables for salad and decided to investigate when I finished. Before I could pop into their room, my son came down — with a head full of gray hair. I called my daughter down to try to figure out who thought using baby powder to "make his hair look like an old man" was a good idea, even though I'd said no about it earlier in the day.
The power of positive reinforcement
With my little boy standing in front of me smelling like the most overly-powdered baby on the planet, I wanted to tick off "rules" on my fingers — some of them forming in my head as I calculated the time we had left before leaving for a play date versus the time it could take to clean up a pile of baby powder. Instead, I asked why they did it — he wanted to do it because she'd done it for a school celebration a while ago, she likes to play dress up — and explained that I'd already said no and why it would make us late for our afternoon plans. With my voice calm, my kids relaxed, and they went upstairs to clean up their mess without prompting.
Rewarding the little things
A marble jar is a physical way for kids to see their good behavior rewarded. As kids see the attention shift from their mistakes to their successes, they will hopefully become more motivated to do more and more positive things. A typical marble jar system involves giving a child a marble for their jar when they're "caught" doing something positive — making their beds without a reminder, helping a sibling get dressed or clean up the playroom or using kind language. When the jar is filled, kids can redeem their marbles for a reward. The reward can be material, like a toy they want, or experience-based, like a parent date or movie outing.
Build your own marble jar
You'll need at least two jars — a parent jar and jar for every child participating. The KORKEN series at IKEA offers glass jars with lids in three different sizes (IKEA, starting at about $2). Use chalk labels to differentiate between jars. The Martha Stewart Home Office™ with Avery™ Chalkboard Labels with Chalk let kids practice writing their names until they're happy with the way they look (Staples, $6 per 4). Fill your parent jar with marbles — the Big Box o' Peewees comes with 1,000 — and get started (Land of Marbles, $35).
Make it work for your family
Families have their own rhythms, and the marble jar can be customized for any family's needs. If you're struggling with bad behavior, you can also have kids remove marbles for things you've discussed stopping, like hitting or negative language. Parents can decide if expected behaviors, like clearing the dinner table, will be counted in the marble total. Keep special, oversized marbles on hand for extra-positive actions — solving a problem at school, for example. Using positive reinforcement will shift the focus from a child's struggles to his successes, and everyone in the family will benefit from the change.
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