The Marble Jar
My favorite disciplinary technique is called the “Marble Jar”. This is a method that combines a behavioral modification tool with early awareness of finance (i.e. “things” cost money, and when you want “things” you need to prioritize and earn them.) In simpler terms, children earn marbles for positive behaviors, and lose marbles for undesired behaviors. These marbles are then used to “purchase” privileges or items.
Start out with a clear jar filled with marbles (Walmart or the dollar store) and another container for each child involved (this can be simple enough for a 2-3 year old to understand, and complex enough to keep a pre-teen engaged.) If you have very small children in the house, consider using cotton balls instead. You may want to have fun and let your child decorate their container as they like. Sit down and discuss 1-5 ways of earning a marble (i.e. making the bed in the morning, basic chores, behavioral goals.) Write these down and display clearly. Then decide on several rewards and their value (i.e. trip to the ice cream store = 10 marbles, 30 minutes of TV = 5 marbles.) In addition, as children request items (i.e. a DVD in the grocery store) you can give their “marble value” and list them on the marble chart as items to be earned. Many times you will find your child suddenly doesn’t “need” an item when they realize how many marbles it will “cost”!
In addition, you may want to randomly reward great behaviors or actions when they occur with a marble – as children never know when this will happen, it actually encourages good behavior on a regular basis rather than just when the child is specifically working to earn a marble (i.e. doing a chore.)
You can also REMOVE a marble for poor behavior, or for older children not adhering to a goal (i.e. not walking the dog, resulting in a mess).
The beauty of this system is that it puts children in the position of choosing to control their behavior, and of prioritizing and earning privileges and rewards, setting the stage for financial savvy in the future. You will also find that varying the goals and the rewards results in a long-lived behavioral system adaptable to almost any age.
for a chart to keep track of marbles earned.
- Dr. Jennifer Gruen