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Many years ago my friend introduced me to an alternative to the standard weekly allowance. At the time my daughter was about five and we were giving her a weekly allowance of a few dollars if she did her 'chores'.
Basically it went like this on Saturdays. Question "Did you do all of your chores this week?" Reply "Yes". Question: "Are you sure?" Reply: "Yes". Response: "OK, here's your allowance."
Of course it was a little more than that, we would ask what she did to deserve her allowance etc. But still, I didn't like the format and wanted to try something different.
Thus - the MARBLE JAR.
The concept is simple. You have two jars. You put marbles in one jar. Whenever your child performs a chore or does something 'marble worthy', they get to move one or more marbles from the 'full' jar to the 'empty' jar. When all of the marbles have been moved they get their allowance, or 'reward'.
One major catch: If your child does something wrong, they have to move one or more marbles BACK to the beginning jar.
I can honestly say - I LOVE this system, and we're actually still using it at age 14! It made a huge difference in how we handled allowance and punishments.
Here's how we really made it work:
1.) We use 100 marbles. So our daughter has to do 100 marble earning events to get her allowance. Sounds like a lot - but read on!
2.) Many things can be marble worthy. Chores are obvious. But we also use it for attitude, behaviour etc. For example:
If our daughter is asked to set the table and does it without complaining, she gets a marble. If there is huffing and puffing involved, she still sets the table but doesn't get the marble. If there is rude comments, or inappropriate behavior - she STILL sets the table, but has to move a marble back.
If our daughter is at a friends house and exhibits exceptional manners, is very nice about sharing (younger days), plays with younger kids, that type of thing, then when we get home I might say "You know, you were really nice to your friend today, go give yourself two marbles."
Another thing my husband does a lot is to reward creative thinking. For example, we ask our daughter to do a task and she thinks up an creative way to make the task easier, or - on miracle days - does more than asked. We might say - "You get two marbles for cleaning the cat's dishes, and two more for figuring out how to not get water all over the place while doing it."
3.) Marble events can be worth more than one marble depending on how long they take, responsibility,etc. For example, my daughter gets one marble for setting the table. She gets five marbles for doing a load of laundry from start to finish. If she does ALL of the laundry in one day, I give her bonus marbles after I've woken up from my faint.
4.) The most important thing is that the marble 'action' is immediate. Don't wait until bedtime to decide how many marbles are given or taken away. This defeats the whole concept of immediate results for desired or undesired behaviour. If your child completes a task or does something marble worthy - have them go and move a marble right away - AND - if they do something inappropriate - immediately have them go and move a marble backwards. Usually the words "OK - That's one marble - do you want to lose another" are enough. Occasionally it escalates, but not often.
5.) Don't worry about allowance (or whatever reward a full marble jar gets), being weekly. Our daughter gets her allowance when the marble jar is 'emptied', not before. Sometimes she can go two months without an allowance. But boy - when there are only 15-20 marbles left- she is begging for chores to do!
6.) Every year on our daughter's birthday her allowance increases. This of course is up to you and what works best for you. We use the same 100 marbles, but they are worth more each year. Of course her responsibilities increase also.
7.) Use the marble jar to create good habits, then stop rewarding what should be 'standard practice'. For example: When your child is young, they may earn a marble every time they brush their teeth, but once this is a good habit, they shouldn't be rewarded for doing what is expected every day.
8.) Friends of ours modified the marble jar concept to have only 10 marbles and every night they would decide if their child got a marble or not. You need to do what works for your family, but I don't agree with this approach. No child is ALL good or ALL bad in a day. More than likely the marble would be given unless the child was VERY bad. It removes the concept of immediate consequences for their actions. While this is an option, I don't think you get the full benefit of the system with this approach.
9.) One time a friend asked me "How do you know your daughter isn't moving marbles when you aren't looking?". I can honestly say I hadn't considered it before and this is something my daughter never did (really I believe that). However, if your child isn't "marble trustworthy", then you will have to control the jar yourself (when they are young just putting it out of reach works), or consider another system.
I hope you've found this article helpful, and I hope it makes sense. Please feel free to post comments and questions. Thanks for reading! Carla Ekman