Stickers and Marbles: Helping Your Child Become Independent and Responsible
All of us can struggle to integrate new habits into our daily routines. Some of us even struggle to have routines in the first place! It’s especially difficult when it’s a new habit we’re not very fond of. While it’s important for us to floss our teeth or take a 15-minute walk, we might have to push ourselves to actually do it, using our independence and responsibility to better ourselves.
We want our children to become independent and responsible adults. How can we start guiding them towards this from a very early age? If some of the traditional methods aren’t working for your family, you might need to add some marbles to your life.
Today we’re going to discuss at-home reward systems that help your child become independent and responsible members of your family. We’ll start with the marble jar, perfect for younger children. Then, we’ll progress to sticker charts that are great for all ages – including adults. Finally, we’ll also talk about applying those methods to multiple behaviors with the visual checklist.
Using Reward Systems
Before we begin, let’s cover the basics. Reward systems are intended as encouraging, positive experiences. You’re not using them as punishment, but as positive reinforcement for behaviors you want to see more of. These reward systems only work if you’re consistent. Your child needs to know that good behavior equals reward, without exception. If you are inconsistent in noticing or rewarding those good behaviors, or if you set too high of a goal, the marbles or stickers will have no meaning to your child.
All you’re going to need is two or three containers and marbles. One container holds your excess marbles; one jar your child wants to fill with marbles. You might want to use a bonus jar of marbles, too, which we’ll talk about shortly. You can have marbles of one size or varying sizes.
To set up your marble jar, you first want to choose the behavior you want to focus on, the one you want to encourage most. Just start with one and work up to no more than five. Then, talk with your child about the reward they want to work for. It can be an object, activity, privilege or anything that will be truly motivating for them. Finally, make sure they clearly understand how they will earn marbles. What exactly are you looking for? Do their dirty clothes need to be off their floor or in the laundry basket? What does “behave when we’re out shopping” really mean? Once you’ve established how your child will earn marbles and what their reward will be, you’re ready to go! Give your child one or more marbles – your choice – every time you see them do that target behavior. Once the marble jar is filled, your child has earned their reward. Hooray! Over time, your child will connect those rewards with that behavior. They will start doing that behavior on their own. Then, you can choose a new behavior to target with your marble jar.
If your child is highly motivated by the marbles, but still exhibits some negative behaviors you find unacceptable, you might want to add in the bonus marble jar. This is a separate, smaller jar of marbles. You can take marbles away from the bonus jar, but not from their reward jar (those marbles they have earned fair and square). Whatever is left in the bonus jar at the end of the day/week/month goes in the reward jar as a bonus, helping them earn their reward faster.
Note: some families may choose to use cotton balls instead of marbles. This works great if you have sound-sensitive family members.
Sticker charts can come in all shapes and sizes and don’t actually require stickers. In essence, sticker charts are checklists. They are great for all ages. Very young children can draw their own sticker charts and choose the stickers they love best. Older children can use stamp and ink pads instead of stickers. You can find hundreds of sticker charts at school-and-office supply retailers ready to go for your use. You can make your own using a spreadsheet application. You can draw one on a whiteboard and cross out the days with a dry erase marker.
Just like marble jars, you first want to choose the target behavior. Talk with your child about the reward and choose how many stickers are needed – and in what period of time – to earn that reward. Make sure your child understands exactly how to earn stickers. Follow through with consistently noticing and rewarding your child’s good behavior. Just as with marble jars, you can use a bonus sticker chart to take away bonus stickers not yet earned when your child misbehaves if that’s motivating for them.
A visual checklist is very much like a sticker chart, but tracks multiple behaviors and acts more like a memory aid. Your visual checklist can look like a sticker chart, but instead of tracking one behavior lists all the steps to your child’s morning or bedtime routine to help them get ready independently. It could have a list of weekly chores instead. Or, you could have exceptional chores listed, things your child wouldn’t ordinarily be expected to do, that can nudge them to a more responsible part of the family (like helping with the laundry, yard work or cooking). You can also use a visual checklist to help you keep track of your self-care routine. Exactly how many times did you sit down to read or exercise with friends this month?
Visual checklists are a little more permanent than sticker charts. They are a way of visually organizing your day and rewarding yourself or your family for a consistent job well done. Your visual checklists can have a daily, weekly or monthly duration, or whatever time frame works best for you. Don’t forget to determine that reward before you start checking off those boxes.
In an upcoming post, we’ll discuss some tips and tricks to get your new reward system up and running and successful from the start. Until then, please tell us: are you team marbles or team stickers?