Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Ellie's Happy Jar: A Positive Reward System

This photo sparked a lot of interest and I received a lot of positive feedback on Facebook yesterday. I stated that Ellie "couldn't contain her excitement buying the Frozen CD. Her reward for filling up her happy jar." I thought I would explain exactly what we do and what works for us.
I picked a good size jar (that wouldn't take weeks to fill) and bought a bag of various sized pom poms from AC Moore. Fun, bright colors for a little girl.
I got the initial idea from another Mom in our play group who said she used a similar concept for her son's potty training. We use different size balls for the size of the good deed. For example, Ellie can really give me a hard time in the morning, especially when we need to get out of the house, with getting dressed, brushing teeth and hair, going to the bathroom. If she listens and does her chores she will get a ball in her jar. For me, that's a big one because it's such a stressor, especially if we are in a rush. This goes for the same at night time. It does not work every morning and night. Most times she continues to play in the morning with Summer (so I will go to other things) and at night I know she is not listening well because she is tired and doesn't want to go to sleep. I know by talking with other Moms that morning and bedtime battles is common!

If she helps me throughout the day and is kind and caring towards Summer and shares her toys then she will get a small ball in her jar. Really, it's expected that she treats her sister well, but she is only 3 and it can still a tough job. I have even rewarded her after she does something she shouldn't (grabbing a toy from Summer), but immediately apologizes without me asking. Usually we added a ball everyday, but there was at least one day we did not.

It took about 1.5-2 weeks to fill up her jar. Since it was her first fill up we treated her to an ice cream date and got her the Frozen CD. I will add that we never buy her toys "just because." If we buy her something it's arts and crafts that we do during the day or clothes and shoes. So, for her this really is something special and something to look forward to. A positive reward.

As previously mentioned (see here), I tend to give Ellie hugs when she is having a temper tantrum. I started this a few months back and found it works for us. Either she will give me one when I ask (during her tantrum) or I will let her know she can come give me a hug when she is ready and I continue to ignore the tantrum. I sometimes have to remind myself and my husband that she is 3 years old and all kids have tantrums (we skipped the terrible two phase). The other day Ellie had one about washing her hands. It was a bad one, too. Over silly things. Well, silly to us, at least. I am also able to ignore it and it doesn't stress me out as it did in the beginning. My blood pressure doesn't rise anymore!

If she acts out and hits someone (usually it's me or her Dad) I will address it at that moment and say, "no" firmly. I tell her "hitting hurts" and "hands are for hugging and clapping, etc not for hitting." She rarely will act out at Summer. It's amazing to me, really. She has always been so gentle and caring towards her sister and has maybe hit her 2-3 times, but immediately after realizes what she has done and apologizes to her and I can see she truly feels bad about it. She will usually apologize right away to me, too, saying "I'm sorry Mommy" and gives me a hug. Sometimes with her Dad it takes a little longer, but she comes around eventually. She loves her Dad so much, but when she does act out her anger and sadness she is over tired (either because of no nap or past her bedtime).

I now recognize when she will be having a meltdown. She rarely naps in her bed- only unless she is really tired and did not fall asleep in the car. Usually if she is really hot and tired she will nap in the car and recently have been leaving her in my locked car in the driveway. I turn off the car, roll the windows down and stay in our front room where I can keep an eye on her. I trust she will be safe, but just in case. Another reason for her temper tantrums (besides being over tired and 3 years old) is hunger. I have to keep snacks on me and always pack a lunch for her. I know I can get irritable myself when I'm hungry and I think it's a little tougher on toddlers.

And, don't get me wrong, I have distracted her from a major meltdown by offering her a pop. Usually I use it more for "if you smile for this photo session I will give you a pop." I always keep one of these lollipops in my bag or car just in case. I buy the organic ones because they don't have any food dye.
So, to reiterate, we use this "happy jar" to reward positive behavior. We do not give consequences (at this time) for negative behavior. And, we do not take balls out of the jar for negative behavior. It's strictly the "happy jar." Time outs have never worked for Ellie so I gave up a while back and started a reverse tactic of hugging. It really helps both of us. Ellie, Summer, and I are a team during the day until Nick gets home. I am not an expert in this field, but I am figuring out what works best for our family through this thing called parenting (and trial and error)! It's definitely not easy and requires a lot of patience and love. You should give it a try, too. Let me know if you do and how it is working for your family. I would also love to hear your ideas on what works with your toddlers.

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