I want my kids to intrinsically want to be kind to each other and to treat each other with love and good humor and basic civility. I want to be that mom who can say her kids are best friends. I used to love my job as a SAHM, I used to be excited when my boys woke up in the morning to see what they would say or do. Lately, though, my older boys, ages 7 and 3, have been so terrible to each other that I had come to dread the moment they woke up because the first thing that would come out of their room each morning was the sound of screaming.
So I decided to try something. My experiment involved two canning jars, two colors of beads, and some well chosen rewards/consequences attached to them.
And since we started it up two weeks ago, my kids have been acting like best friends!!
Here’s how it works, for anyone else out there feeling about ready to send your kids off to boarding school if you have to break up one more fight:
I chose two colors of beads and named the clear beads “kindness beads.” They also go by the names “teamwork beads,” “beads of goodness,” “happiness beads,” whatever strikes us at the moment.
Then there are the red beads. My husband calls them “the other beads,” I call them, “needs work beads,” and Rocco calls them “badness beebs.”*
I then got two clear jars (clear so that the kids can see their progress), one for the “kindness beads” and one for the “needs work” beads. When I see the boys acting kindly together I put a bead in the Kindness Jar. These activities include…
- playing a game together
- being silly with each other
- helping each other
- reading books together
- resolving an argument in a peaceful way
The rule is that they are not allowed to ask for a bead or to tell me I should put one in the jar; they have to trust that I am seeing and hearing conversations they don’t even think I’m seeing or hearing, and there is a running tally in my head and when it hits a certain point, CLINK! They get a bead.
Once the kids get ten clear beads, they get a small reward that they agree on, like a piece of candy or ten minutes of family video game time. When they get to 50 beads the kids can choose something bigger, like a trip to Chuck E. Cheese or bowling or swimming or–who am I kidding? They’ll choose Chuck E. Cheese every time.
Anyway, to make the beads easier to see and count, I dump the Kindness Jar when it reaches ten beads and instead put a rubber band around the jar. Five rubber bands equals 50 beads, at which point we celebrate with a trip to Chuck E. Cheese and then we’ll start the jar over.
As for the “needs work” beads, if the kids get ten of those they each have to pay me a dollar. I empty the jar at the end of each month so they can get a fresh start.
The minute I started up these jars, my boys started acting like the kind of brothers I used to think I’d have, back when I was young and naive. They make up games together, like where one runs around in circles and the other throws pillows at him. If Vincenzo sees Rocco struggling with something, he voluntarily offers his help. Vincenzo uses a sweet tone of voice with Rocco instead of his annoyed-know-it-all voice during their play time conversations. When they do get into an argument, I remind them that how they behave in the argument is going to earn them a bead, and miraculously, they find a way to solve it without yelling, hitting, storming out, or tattling.
Counting the “beebs”
Yes, ideally I would not need jars. Ideally they would have each been born wearing their half of a “BFF” necklace. But I have been trying for three years now to get my kids to be kind to each other and apparently there are some things even a master’s degree in teaching can’t fix without a little reward system.
Pro tip for anyone who wants to try this system: reward move heavily the first few days so that they get a reward fairly early on, then you can be more discretionary in handing out beads. Now that we’re settled in, my kids generally earn about ten Kindness Beads a week and haven’t actually earned enough Needs Work beads to have to pay.
*While Rocco’s name for the beads is kind of funny, it’s important that you don’t put a negative label on the beads because you don’t want your kids to go around thinking they’re “bad” if they get a bead in that jar. A child who is routinely called “bad” is likely to internalize that label, which is very damaging.