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The Marble Jar Method, Is It Working?

  • February 13, 2009

Recently I wrote about a positive behavior reinforcement method I implemented to help me manipulate my devil’s spawn offspring into listening to me and doing what I wanted. I am pleased to announce that the marble jar method, when executed properly, will absolutely allow you to modify and/or eliminate the undesirable behavior of anyone participating. However, the plan is only as effective as the individual administering it and that’s where we had some problems.

When I first set out the marble jars, not only did Matthew and Lauren keep acting like hooligans, they weren‘t even trying to earn marbles. I couldn’t figure it out. Why weren’t they participating? Weren’t they excited about getting cool stuff? It finally occurred to me a day later that for a positive behavior reinforcement method to work there needs to be some positive reinforcement.

The next morning I gave Lauren a marble for being so cheerful when she came down to breakfast. I gave Matthew a marble for answering me quickly when I asked him what he wanted to eat. I gave both of them marbles for brushing their teeth, putting on their boots, and walking to the bus stop.

They were thrilled. “You mean this is all we have to do to earn marbles?” they asked.

“Yep”, I said. “Just keep doing what I ask and you’ll have a jar full of marbles by Sunday.”

The more positive behavior I reinforced, the more positive behavior they exhibited. The backpacks were hung up, the boots were put away, and all the dirty clothes were placed in the laundry basket. Matthew and Lauren said please and thank you to each other. Whenever Chloe rang the bell to let us know she needed to go out, Lauren ran to the front door to open it, screaming, “I get a marble, I get a marble!”

By the end of the week, Lauren earned enough marbles for a new DS game and Matthew earned enough marbles for duct tape, glue, paint, and other building supplies for a project he’s working on in the spare bedroom.

Clearly, I am some kind of rock star mother. If my eggs weren’t so old and Dave hadn’t had a vasectomy, I might consider having another baby since parenting is so easy for me. I thought about writing an article detailing how effortless it is to raise polite and obedient children and sending it to Parenting magazine so other moms and dads could learn from my example.

After about a week, when Matthew finally realized that letting Chloe out was a really easy way to earn marbles, he raced to the front door when he heard the bell ring. So did Lauren and since they both refused to yield to their sibling, they collided, got pissed, and had a knock down drag out fight about who was going to open the door. I sent them to their rooms, took a marble out of their jars, and let Chloe out myself.

A few days later, I asked Matthew what he wanted for breakfast. He thought answering me was optional. I asked him again and when he started demanding things for breakfast that we didn’t even have in the house, I got a little peeved. I gave him a couple choices and he decided to get lippy with me. I warned him that I was going to take a marble out of his jar if he did not answer me immediately. He said he didn’t care. I removed ALL the marbles in his jar and asked him if he cared now. He responded by sticking his tongue out at me, making a face, and opening and closing his hands up by his mouth to mimic my talking.

I snapped. I yelled so loud people in the next county probably heard me. I slapped my hand down on the island so everyone would be crystal clear on who was in charge.

I’m going through the “terrible forty-twos” and I’m not always able to control the temper tantrums that accompany this adult developmental stage.

I grabbed a slip of paper, wrote “negative 45 marbles” on it, and shoved it into Matthew’s jar. I put myself in a time out and barely got Matthew and Lauren to the bus stop in time.

It took me twenty-four hours to cool off enough to remove the slip of paper from Matthew’s marble jar and start him over at zero.

I’m not giving up on the marble jar method. I believe it works if administered properly. I will come up with an action plan for how to deal with occasional behavior deviations and I realize that throwing a parental hissy fit is not very effective in terms of positive reinforcement.

Matthew hopes to earn enough marbles next week to earn Mario Kart for the Wii. Lauren is thinking about another game for her DS.

And I’m going to try harder to be a rock star mom.

The Marble Jar

  • January 28, 2009

No one is listening to me in this house. Matthew and Lauren don’t hear me until I start yelling. Dave can’t hear me because he’s from Mars.

In an attempt to shamelessly manipulate everyone into actually listening to what I’m saying (and it’s not blah, blah, blah people) I have decided to employ the marble jar method. I will stay calm and everyone will want to listen to me because I will have modified their behavior via positive reinforcement, thus returning our household to a lovely harmonious state.

Everyone gets a jar. Do what I ask and you get a marble. Do it without my asking and you might get two. Not listening to me or not doing what I’ve asked will result in me taking a marble out of your jar. There will be no yelling, debating, arguing, or pleading. Just marbles going in and out. I’m going to be keeping track of invisible marbles for Dave because if I actually get him a jar he might divorce me.

At the end of the week, whoever has earned their pre-determined minimum number of marbles will get to choose a corresponding reward. The more expensive the item, the more marbles that will have to be earned.

I believe in this method. And either I straighten everyone out now or juvie hall’s gonna do it for me.

Lauren’s already tried to beat the system by giving Matthew a fake hug goodbye in order to earn a marble.

Dave earned an invisible marble by loading the dishwasher on my birthday. Dave lost an invisible marble because when I opened the dishwasher to unload it all the bowls and cups were upside down and filled with water that had what looked like pulverized cocoa puffs floating in it. Seven spoons were stuck together because he had stacked them all in the same section of the silverware thingy. Everything was jammed in so the stuff he piled on the bottom rack was still dirty. I organized everything and ran the dishwasher again.

Matthew tried to boycott the whole thing by saying he didn’t care about any stupid rewards. Once he heard what some of the rewards were (like duct tape and Wii games), he went upstairs to build a treasure chest for me to put everything in. He’s catching on quick.

I am trying to be clear with my expectations for everyone. Here are some of the ways they can earn or lose a marble:

1. Saying please and thank you to anyone without being asked (earn a marble).

2. Watching YouTube videos without adult supervision (lose a marble). I know the kids were only trying to find SpongeBob SquarePants but when I came upstairs they were watching SpongeBong HempPants (the crystal meth episode). I know they’re too young to understand the content but from now on nobody’s on YouTube unless I’m in the same room with them.

3. Let Chloe out when she rings the bell (earn a marble). I can hear it when I’m clear upstairs going to the bathroom and I don’t understand why no one else can hear it when they’re downstairs in the same room as the bell.

4. Hitting, spitting, or using physical force of any kind (lose a marble). I don’t care who started it. Just because your sibling hauled off and socked you in the arm does not mean you need to retaliate with a psychotic karate chop to the head. ***And Matthew, Lauren’s kind of a spit-talker so don’t be so quick to think she’s doing it on purpose or to be mean.

5. Unpack your backpack and bring me all forms, notes, assignment books and home folders (earn a marble). If you are capable of doing this at school you are capable of doing it at home. ****Dave please try harder to give me all your ATM receipts. The one you gave me last Sunday, dated September something, does not help me keep the checkbook balanced accurately (lose a marble).

6. Leave a path of destruction with a debris zone a mile wide through whatever room I just got done cleaning (lose a marble). If you are able to drag it all out you are able to put it all away. Don’t bother telling me you all of a sudden have a headache and need Motrin.

We had a family meeting after dinner tonight because we’re still working out some of the marble jar details. Matthew is currently at a negative three marbles and Lauren has earned two. It’s too early to tell if anyone will visit the treasure chest this week.

I hope this works. I’m going to lose all MY marbles if the behavior of my children doesn’t improve. I probably wouldn’t have to spend so many of my Weight Watchers points on wine if they’d stop acting like savages. But I probably still would.

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