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Years ago we tried a sticker job chart. After a few weeks, it was way more maintenance for me than it did any good for the kids. I thought maybe the problem was the stickers so I tried a magnetic job chart. No surprise I had a hard time keeping the kids interest in it past a few weeks. Once again, it was way more work for me — just one more thing to nag them about.
Finally we discovered a reward system that has held strong for OVER a year! I know, I can hardly believe it. In fact, it’s been so successful that just last month we created two more jars so all the kids have one.
My sister-in-law Erica is a Behavioral Therapist and told me that our pom-pom jars are a modified token economy system. Who knew? It works, that’s all I know. Erica says, “a token economy system is when there is a specific criteria to earning each token and then there is specific criteria on how many they need to earn before they can earn the prize.” So our tokens are pom-poms and when they fill the jar to the top, they get a reward of their choice.
Now this isn’t our first attempt. Four years ago we tried these jars but they weren’t successful for two reasons. One, the jars were too big. And two, we took pom-poms out for bad behavior. The result: the jar never got full and the big kids never could see the benefit of their good behavior.
So what’s made the difference this time around? How have pom-pom jars been a consistent success with my kids?
1. We pick three things we are working on and focus on those. See the little tag on each jar? I sit down with the kids and we decide three things they are trying to work on. They know they will get a pom-pom for each of those things. When they master those things, we pick three new ones and change the tag.
Now Davis is my Type 4 kid (if you are familiar with The Child Whisperer book by Carol Tuttle). He only ever does things if it’s his idea. But when he does decide something, he’s all in. So even though he is only 3 years old, when I suggested he get a pom-pom each night he sleeps in his own bed he quickly told me, “No I not. I will only sleep in yous bed ’cause it is so comfy. But I will clean my room all the day long.”
And sure enough, he refuses to sleep in his own bed but he’ll clean any room for a pom-pom. In fact, one night he accidentally slept in his own bed and when I gave him a pom-pom for it the next morning he was so mad!
2. The jars are not too big. This time I use smaller jars to make sure the kids can fill them in a few weeks.
3. I don’t take out a pom-pom for bad behavior. Well except for one time when the twins toilet papered the kitchen. But other than that, the general rule is the kids can’t lose a pom-pom. They do have consequences for bad behavior like “Take 5” in their room or go to time-out, but they are confident that if they earn a pom-pom they will keep it.
4. We are honest. These jars at easy access for the kids and you may be as surprised (as I was) to learn that my kids have always treated them with respect and have never stolen pom-poms to add to their own jar. And, when I say they earn a pom-pom, I make sure that pom-pom goes in their jar. I either give them the pom pom to place in their jar themselves or, if I place the pom-pom, I tell them how many pom-poms I added to their jar and why.
5. Bonus pom-poms. They can earn bonus pom poms as their Dad or I see fit, often for extra chores or kind behavior. This seems to keep them on their guard.
Just a side note because I know you’ll ask: my kids still do chores but they are things they do because they are part of our family. If they get a reward for cleaning, it’s for going above and beyond what is normally required or for helping a sibling with chores.
6. They choose their own reward. These pom-poms are their currency. Right now we don’t give our kids an allowance. For the little kids, I try to keep the reward around a dollar. So they might earn a trip to the dollar store or prize from a machine. I actually encourage the kids to think about — and even talk about — what they will get when the jar is full. I find this “why” gives them the motivation they need to continue filling the jar. For the bigger kids, their full-jar-value is five dollars. They can either trade it in for a toy or cash. lately they’ve chosen cash. I don’t blame them.
If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen this meltdown when Mason had buyers remorse over the Happy Meal prize he picked.
Thankfully his jar was almost full and by helping with the dishes he quickly earned a new Happy Meal and got the Spiderman Mask he later decided he needed. Phew.
For the bigger kids, their full-jar-value is five dollars. They can either trade it in for a toy or cash. lately they’ve chosen cash. I don’t blame them.