By in Parenting

How to Teach Valuable Lessons With Positive Discipline

The first time I ever encountered the idea of a marble jar for discipline was in a movie I saw on TV in the 1980s. I can't for the life of me remember what the name of the move was, or even what it was about. I just remember that Patricia Neal (at least I think it was her) played a teacher whose class had not had too many academic successes. She used a marble jar system to motivate her students to stay focused on their schoolwork, and they quickly learned they were capable of more than they (or their former teachers) had previously thought.

Marble Jar Discipline

A jar of buttons, marbles, beans, craft sticks, or straws makes a wonderful token economy when paired with a reward that has a value all on its own. It could be a day without homework, a trip to the zoo, or maybe buying a toy the child has wanted for some time. If your child is old enough to choose his own reward, it can become even more powerful.

The system can be as simple as awarding one token for each time the child completes a targeted behaviour. Once the jar is full, the reward has been earned.

Focus on Positives

Target whatever behaviours you are currently working on in your family. It could be things like respecting bed time or getting up in the morning independently. It could be helping with chores around the house. It could also be something like getting along with a younger sibling, or getting through the day without having a temper tantrum.

The beauty of a token economy like a marble jar is that it allows both parents and kids to focus on the positives . Rather than punishing bad behaviour, you work on “catching” your child doing something good. Rather than taking away privileges for misbehaviour, you are offering your child the opportunity to earn them by fulfilling your expectations for good behaviour.

Both children and parents tend to feel much better when discipline focuses on charting progress and giving out rewards, rather than on taking things away. Because expectations and consequences are made clear in advance, kids won't feel that discipline is arbitrary. And parents won't be forced to make a judgement call in the midst of a temper tantrum or a heated argument.

Focus on Choices

It's important to teach kids that everyone has choices in life. Misbehaviour doesn't just happen to your child: he chooses it, and he must learn to be accountable for it. When he chooses to obey the rules, he earns a token. When he chooses to break a rule he forfeits that token, and is no closer to earning the reward he seeks.

Notice that marble jar discipline helps you avoid the trap of entitlement that many families fall into. Your child will begin to distinguish between those things which are his rights – a safe home, loving and supportive parents, adequate food and clothing, etc. - and those things which are treats or rewards for good behaviour.

He does not deserve a reward, just because he gets up in the morning. Similarly a treat is something that happens only occasionally. It is usually a surprise, and is not to be expected. He must understand that while he can always depend on his parents for the necessities of life, the extras aren't a right. They must either be earned or given because it pleases the giver. And that happens more often when rules are respected, chores done, and everyone is getting along!

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Image credit: Marbles by Anthony Poynton/Pixabay ( CC0 1.0 )

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lexiconlover wrote on July 13, 2015, 3:29 PM

I remember using the marble jar with kids I used to work with.

MegL wrote on July 13, 2015, 3:30 PM

Yes, indeed! I used a motivation chart for my eldest child but it taught me that MY attitude was wrong and when I changed that, my son was no longer misbehaving!

Ruby3881 wrote on July 13, 2015, 4:21 PM

It's become a very popular system, both at home and in the classroom! I've even seen pins where people are using a marble jar to motivate themselves to lose weight emoticon :smile:

Ruby3881 wrote on July 13, 2015, 4:22 PM

I love that! Yes, as parents we often assume we are automatically in the right. But we do make mistakes, and often we are just as much a part of the problem as our kids are.

Ruby3881 wrote on July 13, 2015, 4:43 PM

Little kids often pout or stomp off if they're told no. It's just part of growing up. But it's usually forgotten as quickly as it came on. Discipline isn't a magic bullet that makes children instantly behave like miniature adults, and ultimately if the parents allowed the kids to throw garbage they are the ones with the problem.

lexiconlover wrote on July 13, 2015, 4:50 PM

Yep. I've seen the weight loss ones on pinterest and other places online.

Feisty56 wrote on July 13, 2015, 5:11 PM

I think positive discipline helps to keep parents/adults out of the "policing" mode that so often occurs.

bestwriter wrote on July 13, 2015, 9:16 PM

My mother was great with incentives. She had a brood of 8 and they were all put to harness in the kitche, yard - everywhere. She managed to keep us happy by opening up contests.
'the on who finishes first' the one who picks the most number' (whatever that was)..................... emoticon :grin:

cheri wrote on July 13, 2015, 10:21 PM

I love the idea of marble jar discipline. SOmething I must try doing with my little boy.

BarbRad wrote on July 14, 2015, 2:49 AM

I have never heard about this. I can see where it would be very useful. My son would have responded to that.

VinceSummers wrote on July 14, 2015, 7:59 AM

Discipline is such an individual thing. And it is quite controversial. I find it's useful to know of many tools, then personally pick which work most effectively. Believe it or not... well, maybe I'll turn that one into an article.

CoralLevang wrote on July 14, 2015, 3:10 PM

It seems that discipline of any kind has gone by the way side nowadays.

I had one woman, when I told a child, "No," reply with a "You cannot tell my child anything. It's not your place."
I wanted to respond with, "if telling you anything would work, I would make it my place. I'm sure your child is still trainable."
I didn't. I bit my tongue.