I have a four-year-old named Sunny. Sometimes I think we goofed and should have named her “partly-cloudy” instead. She has a very strong will, she’s bright and she wants what she wants.
These will work together for her good when she’s an adult. As a child, however, these traits are a little hard to deal with at times. Particularly at dinner.
This little cutie refuses every organized meal. I rarely grant her snacks in an effort to ensure she’s very hungry especially at dinner, but getting her to eat with the family has been nothing short of frustrating for years.
The paradigm of our home shifts from peaceful and content to World War III at dinner. What I wanted to be a happy family time where we discuss and share our day turns into yells, threats and tears.
Sunny, more often than not, ended up in her room as a consequence of being so difficult and unruly at the table.
This jar, these puff balls.
One of my friends was recently remarking about the power in positive reinforcement. In my head, I totally discounted that this would work at our house. I thought I had given her every reason in the world to obey me, by allowing natural consequences to take their course.
Consequences have always been clearly announced at our house and have followed the choices made. Good consequences for good behavior and bad consequences for bad behavior.
This has worked so well for Alyssa. She is one of the most easily obedient children I’ve ever known.
Sunny however is fully willing to suffer any consequence to assert her will.
I introduced the “Behavior Jar.” I started rewarding the smallest bits of good behavior. I noticed her every move and if it was at all acceptable, she was rewarded with a puff ball in her jar. Fill the jar get a sleeve of Smarties. The rule of the puffball is that they cannot be taken away. They’re a one way street. They can only be earned.
It didn’t take her long to figure out she wanted to earn lots of puff balls. We started this in August and it’s still going strong.
Her behavior is drastically improved even without constant rewarding. That only lasted a few weeks. The day to day pestering, fighting and arguing is now at an acceptable level. When she starts getting a little out of hand, I break out the jar and start rewarding the good stuff and POOF! She’s an angel again.
We mainly use the jar for meal time now. Before the jar, I couldn’t get her to sit flat on her chair or face or food or use her utensils or stop playing with her food, or stop complaining that she didn’t want or like what was served.
Now, I give her puff balls when I notice she’s doing any of these things. It works for her every time. We don’t use the jar at every meal anymore, but if she starts to get unruly I’ll grab the jar and her behavior instantly changes. The satisfaction from filling the jar is enough for her. She doesn’t even need a prize anymore.
So there you have it. There actually IS power in positive reinforcement parenting, at least at our house and with this child. If you’re having a similar power struggle at your house, I DARE you to try it.
Use any sized jar and any sized puffballs. I’ve found a tiny jar and 10 mini puffballs to be the perfect goal for her.