Jar of Consequences: Taming the Not So Cute Behaviors

There are some really not cute behaviors happening at my house right now.  My daughters are five and three.  They are fifteen months, three weeks apart in age and they each have their own little behavioral quirk right now that is testing our parenting skills.  I have found myself being much more of a Debbie Downer than I like, so I reevaluated what was happening at our house.  We currently have a marble jar to reinforce positive behavior.  When the marble jar is full there is a trip to the treasure chest.  This worked great….for awhile.  And then we hit the age of four – which is a very bossy age (in my house at least).  And for some reason my younger daughter refuses to use her words and talk at times.  I was giving my daughters too many warnings and redirections while the consequences were not making them stop their inappropriate behaviors.  What’s a parent to do?  The Jar of Consequences just made its’ debut in our house!

The Jar of Consequences provides just that…..consequences for inappropriate behavior.  We sat down and compiled a list of actions that would lead to a Consequence.  This list is very specific to the girls – and I am pretty sure that “pretending to be an animal when you should be listening” will not be on too many other lists….at least I hope not!  Just to note, you do not need to sit down and write a list of reasons for getting a consequence for this to be  work.  But in doing so you are allowing your child to help with the whole process and be a part of the team.  It will go much more smoothly if you include your children in this from the very beginning.

We then brainstormed the consequences and compiled a list of consequences.

I cut apart the list of consequences and put them into a jar, which is not really a jar at all.  But it works!!  We used a decorative glass bowl from the Dollar Tree for our consequences.

The girls get a warning – “Oh no, I hear you whining.  Please remember to use your regular voice. I would hate for you to have to choose a consequence.”  (I was a teacher and yes that really is what I say when my patience level ranges from half to all the way full).  That reminder provides them two things: a warning which details what inappropriate behavior they are committing AND the replacement behavior that they should be doing.  After their warning they choose a consequence from the jar.

The Jar of Consequences takes the roll of “Bad Guy” away from the parent.  We are not forced to make heat of the moment decisions as a consequence for our children.  Really, how many times can we send them to time out for the same thing or say “The next time you……?”  With the Jar of Consequences the child reaches in and chooses their own consequence.  Theoretically they could pull out 2 consequences from the jar and choose which one they would like to do more.  As the parent you can show your child how much you empathize with them when they pull out a chore they detest “Oh honey.  I know that taking out the garbage is not your favorite chore.  Hopefully you get something different next time.”  Now you are on their side!

We are going to accompany the Jar of Consequences with a Jar of Fun.  Children respond the best to praise.  I also created a list of super fun things that the girls love.  Honestly, these are super easy things to do, but as parents we sometimes say “no” just because that is the rut we are stuck in.  When my husband or I catch them doing something really good they will get to choose from the Jar of Fun.   I could print this list on different colored card stock and combine it with the Jar of Consequences since they really are consequences for appropriate behavior, but I don’t want to confuse my younger daughter so I will keep the positive and negative consequences separated for now.

Ultimately we have 3 jars set up in our house to help tame the no so cute behaviors and reinforce the behaviors we want to see again and again.  We will continue using the marble jar.  It reinforces acts like playing together nicely, asking nicely, setting the dinner table, letting the dog out of his crate, and more.

For this system to work it is imperative that you talk to your children.  Explain that you are going to help them act in ways that make everyone happy but also help stop behaviors that are inappropriate.  Brainstorming and creating this project with you children will help ensure that they fully understand the changes that are about to happen in your family.

It is imperative that you reward your children more than you punish them….or changes in behavior will not occur.  If “whining” is on the list of inappropriate behaviors and your child accepted cleaning up their toys for dinner time without whining then allow them to choose a positive consequence and pair it with verbal praise, “I really like the way you cleaned up your toys without a peep.  Please pick a reward from the Jar.”

If you are unable to deliver the reward your child picks from the Jar immediately, simply have them hang on to it, so they can use it at a later date. After it has been “redeemed” you can return it to the Jar or set it aside until the Jar has been emptied. If your child picks a negative consequence and it happens to be the dishes, but the dishes were recently completed. You will need to have them turn the slip over to you so you can see to it that it is completed in the near future.

The most important thing to remember when using The Jar of Consequences is to be consistent. Don’t let their misbehavior slide even one time. If you are not consistent, it motivates them to test you, to see if you will let it slide the next time. By the same token, if you never notice the positive things your children do, they may develop an attitude of “why even bother.” So, always always notice their positive behaviors and the dynamics of your family will change.

Sometimes the child will not be able to redeem the prize immediately.  Have them tuck it in to a safe place for when they can redeem it.  Once they get their prize that slip will be returned to the Jar.  Likewise, if a negative consequence cannot be carried out immediately (i.e. there are no clean clothes to fold) the child can hold on to the slip until the task is completed or you can allow them to choose another task.  It’s up to you.  Just be consistent.

Speaking of consistency…..that is the best tool we have as parents.  The more consistent we are the more behaved are children will be.  Remember that the Jar of Consequences is there to help diminish inappropriate behavior and reinforce the behaviors you want to see again and again.

Remember to put the Jar of Consequences where your children can easily see and access it.