The Treat Jar: Encouraging Good Behaviour

If you came to our house this week you’d have noticed a jar of brightly coloured furry pompoms sitting on the mantlepiece. Next to it another jar, with our almost three-year-old boy’s name on it, full of slips of paper.

But it’s not a new trend in home decor we discovered on Pinterest; it’s all about trying to get our pre-schooler to follow the house rules!

Encouraging Good Behaviour

Over the past year we’ve been facing a rising tide of two year old assertion and defiance from our first-born. This has undoubtedly been aggravated by the arrival of his baby brother, shortly after his second birthday. But I gather that the “terrible twos” are a well established battleground for parents throughout history, so we were expecting a few challenges.

Previously I’ve written about the futility of trying to say no to a toddler and not everyone agreed with me, but I now realise that at the time we were still dealing with a baby (18 months) who didn’t really grasp right and wrong. So I think my thoughts at the time still stand.

In the past year Little B’s behaviour has ping-p0nged between the sweetest, charming little boy-in-waiting, to a screaming dictator with a propensity for random acts of violence (usually toward his baby brother). I know this is all text-book behaviour but it’s pushed us both to the edge at times and we’ve felt that other people didn’t seem to be having quite the same level of sibling rivalry.

I’m interested to know if other parents have found that a bigger age gap helped (ours is bang on two years) or whether two girls or a mix of genders helps make the journey easier. In my experience every time we tried to do anything with Baby F his big brother would attack him, try his best to stop us, or unleash a barrage of verbal and physical outrage on his surroundings in general.

Generally if it’s just us and him he is lovely company so I am well aware that most of his poor behaviour is entwined with jealousy and feeling anxious about losing our one to one attention.

During the year we’ve sought advice from people we know and ‘expert’ advice online and in books. We’ve tried a few of the classic techniques but admittedly we’ve jumped about a lot and not found a consistent regime to follow. This has been in large part down to being incredibly fucking busy looking after a baby and a toddler day in day out, which until recently fell largely to Mrs B who has done amazingly well in the face of overwhelming odds.

Some techniques and tips I’ve tried and learned from:

  • counting to three – always follow through on what the threat is!
  • time out/naughty step – this didn’t work for us as he doesn’t seem bothered or walks off every time.
  • taking away a favourite toy – this is the winner for our boy, as a warning it works 99% of the time and the times we’ve had to follow through he gets the message. The toy of the moment changes so we need to keep an eye on whatever it is. Taking his CBeebies ipad game away works too. Usually give it back at the end of the day or halfway through depending what he did.
  • using a serious voice and getting down to his level – I think this is essential, otherwise we may as well be talking to the wall. Asking him to repeat things back to show he’s listened is a good idea too.
  • letting him retain some control – this will depend on your child’s temperament but we are both stubborn and I know when I was a kid I used to dig my heels in if my mum or dad or a teacher was trying to get me to do something I didn’t want to do. So I think within reasonable boundaries it can be good to give your child a way out of a stand-off. This could be as simple as “OK you can put the cars back in the garage and then it’s bedtime.” It can’t become a negotiation or a way of endlessly delaying but if the tension is rising diplomacy 101 says let the other guy keep some pride.
  • no hard feelings – just as couple’s shouldn’t go to bed without making up I don’t think parents should bear grudges toward their kids and when bedtime comes around if there is still a bad atmosphere it you need to hug it out.
  • remember you’re the adult – yes they can drive us crazy but the bottom line is that children don’t have the self-control and emotional intelligence parents (should) have. So don’t stoop to their level, don’t shout or hit if they do, don’t lose your shit (much), and try to rise above it all.
  • try to see the funny side – once they’re not in the room!

I admit we have also on occasion shouted at Little B – which always makes me feel like I’ve become the person I don’t want to be (and has diminishing effect) – but would never smack him as we both think this is wrong, counter-productive, and sets a bad example.

Since Christmas, as he approaches his third birthday, we’ve noticed some changes in Little B that made us think it was time to put a reward system in place. The biggest changes have been in how he has started to exhibit a measure of self-awareness and self-control and reflecting on his own behaviour and its consequences.

He’s also started to have some sense of time and the idea of waiting to get something (although if you say “We’re having pasta tonight” he will still ask for it immediately).

The combination of all this made us confident he could grasp the concept of building up rewards to get a bigger prize on reaching a milestone.

And lo, the treat jar was born.

How The Treat Jar Works

We’d tried and failed to keep up sticker charts before, particularly for potty training, but never managed to keep them up. I think mainly because Little B didn’t seem that fussed about the stickers. So the incentive wasn’t there.

The treat jar works on the game principles of collecting, targets, and reward. We knew the challenge had to match our boy’s age and ability and so we honed it down to some core principles. The Treat Jar needed to be:

  • easy to understand
  • visible and tangible
  • operate on a timescale he could grasp
  • incorporate the option of a sanction as well as reward
  • be flexible so we could adapt it as he grew

We talked about a number of options before Mrs B came up with the pompom idea. And it is brilliantly simple.

Take three old jam jars.

Fill one with brightly coloured things – they could be marbles or stones or whatever your child enjoys. The second one is empty. The third one has their name on it and is filled with temptingly mysterious pieces of paper.

The idea is that your child gradually fills the middle jar in order to win a prize from the third one.

Introducing The Treat Jar

Pick a morning when you are all at home and not rushing around. We chose a Saturday breakfast time. Make sure you have your child’s full attention and make a big fuss about them being a big boy/girl and this is a new way for them to earn treats.

Keep the explanation short. Something like this:

“We’ve got a new exciting game to play and you can win prizes. This jar is empty and you need to fill it to win a treat. You fill it with these [add object of choice]. And you earn them by [add your goal here].

Every night we’ll see how the jar is filling up, and every Saturday we’ll check to see if the jar is full. If it is you get to pick a piece of paper out of The Treat Jar. And you win whatever is on the paper. [Give some examples of things at this point.]

That’s exciting isn’t it? [Now as them to repeat back how it works.]

Great. There’s one more thing. If sometimes you don’t do XXX you can lose a [object]. But we know that won’t happen because you’re going to try really hard to fill the jar.”

Put the jars somewhere obvious and talk about them every day until you’ve got into the routine.

Setting Goals For Your Child

We think the ways of winning objects for the jar need to be specific and limited. If it’s vague like ‘being good’ they won’t be focused and could lose interest. And if there are too many ways to win they’ll forget or get confused. It depends on age and temperament of course but we are aiming this at a three year old boy, so we have only two ways to earn pompoms.

  1. Use the potty
  2. Brush your teeth.

We originally thought we’d have ‘Be nice to your brother’ and ‘Do what we ask you to do’. However we soon realised this was a) too vague and b) things he should be doing anyway.

So if he isn’t nice to his baby brother or doesn’t do as he’s asked the option is there to lose a pompom!

We chose potty and teeth as these are things we’re really trying to instil at the moment. Once he’s on track with that we can set new challenges. So hopefully the jar will be with us for a while. Perhaps he’ll be winning pompoms at 16 for tidying his room toward winning tickets to a gig!

Finally, a note on the treats. We discussed this a lot and decided they needed to be a fiver or less as they are weekly. And they couldn’t all be physical toys or we’d be snowed under (more than we are)!

So we’ve chosen the following: a new game for the Ipad (or an upgrade for a game he has e.g extra Chuggington train), a trip to a cafe, a small toy of his choice from the local toy shop (under £5), an activity e.g. baking biscuits or dressing up.

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The treats can be whatever you want them to be and your child could be involved in choosing what goes in the jar. Just remember to make them doable on your budget and not so big they are like birthday or Christmas presents!

We are one week in and the jars have been working well. We made sure he filled it the first week to instil a hunger for the following one. I think the emphasis needs to be on achieving the goal unless he’s been particularly naughty that week!

Do you have a reward system in place with your children? I’d love to hear about it or if you try a Treat Jar of your own, let me know how it goes. 🙂

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8 replies »

  1. I think this is a lovely idea and great for the child to see how their treat jar is getting fuller (hopefully!) each day. I’m going to try this for my 6 year old. Thx for sharing #BloggerClubUK


  2. #marvmonday love this, plus i secretly wish someone would give me a pompom jar. Little dude isn’t interested in rewards as such – he is too busy running in circles. a quick tip on counting to three – count backwards, then the child has a sense of ‘the end’ – it works a dream. Best of pom pom luck to you.

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