Our three year old is something of strong-willed child: opinionated. determined. assertive. impossible. A pistol to be sure, now don’t get me wrong, I’m happy he’s not a bump-on-a-log, but sometimes the defiance willfulness is out of control. We are not the kind of parents that don’t believe in limits or discipline, but I find myself scolding more than I like, telling him “NO!” more than I like, feeling frustrated more than I like. All of this definitely more than my child likes; he gets frustrated, too. Obedience is a tricky principle to instill in the [always moving at warp speed] mind of a toddler, and time-outs just weren’t getting the job done on their own.
In an effort to improve the situation, we’ve instituted an incentive system to positively reinforce his good behavior (he really is quite sweet) but also teach consequences for the occasional naughty behavior, too. And so far, it’s really working well.
On our kitchen counter stands a small glass jar and a tin of marbles. For every good thing he does, no matter how small, he gets to put a marble in the jar. It might be going potty without being asked, putting his clothes away, sharing, any time at all he follows instructions or shows kindness. When the jar is full, he gets to go on a special date with Mommy or Daddy. He totally digs the satisfying kerplink! as he drops in his marbles and gives a round of high-5s every time. I love that he is physically and visually connected to the reinforcement.
But, when he does something he shouldn’t (and I know that he knows when he has), I take a marble OUT of the jar. In conjunction with our time-out procedure. I’ll confess, his jar has been half full and then empty on the same day, but the concept seems to be sticking. He totally hates when I take the marbles away. And I’ve noticed he’s more adaptable in general, even if I don’t mention the marbles.
There are probably some child psychology and parenting experts out there who would love to tell me I’m doing it all wrong and ruining my child forever; I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do know this much: we’ve had fewer meltdowns, an increase in obedience, and the level of peace in our home is definitely on the up-swing. I’d say that’s success. And I’m no longer at risk of losing my own marbles.