Tired of being a constant disciplinarian? Are you exhausted from serving as referee over toys, books, games ALL day long? Successful parenting doesn’t have to be so hard. The day I changed my parenting perspective from a reactive disciplinarian to a proactive promoter of positive reinforcement, my kids’ behavior changed dramatically for the better too.
Successful Parenting with Positive Reinforcement
At the start of 2015, I was literally at my wits end. My 3 year old took every opportunity to beat on her toddling little sister. I couldn’t turn my back for a second without World War III erupting in my family room. And while my toddler was getting bigger and better at defending herself at 17 months, I didn’t want either of them thinking it was okay to hit or hurt each other. Being cooped up for days due to the weather and school being on break certainly wasn’t helping matters. And playing referee all day was exhausting – nothing I said or did) seemed to have a lasting impact. It was then that I found a post from Carrots are Orange on How to Teach Kindness with a Kindness Jar, giving me a successful parenting strategy using positive reinforcement.
Starting a Kindness Jar
This simple positive parenting technique restored my sanity and improved both my girls’ behavior. They were only 3.5 and 19 months old, but it is amazing how positive reinforcement can produce better outcomes more than any punishment or disciplining of adverse behaviors ever will.
Mason jar or vase/container
Cost: Free to less than $5
Prep Time: None
Clean-Up Time: None
Before using our kindness jar, all day long when correcting my preschooler’s aggressive or unkind behaviors toward her sister, I sounded like a broken record. “Be nice.” “Be kind to your sister.” But at 3 years old, those are very abstract terms, and their little minds are still very much driven by the tangible world. Concrete rewards, albeit small ones, had worked wonders with potty training, so when I read about the Kindness Jar, I realized the same could work on a daily basis with her overall behavior.
We had a giant bag of pom poms leftover from our holiday crafts, so I chose pom poms to fill our jar, but you could use just about anything: coins, beans, jewels. I sat both girls down and explained to her that this was our Kindness Jar, and we were going to work together as a family to fill it up by performing acts of kindness towards one another. When the jar was full, I told them they could pick out a special reward – she chose cupcakes. So when our jar is filled, we will go as a family to get cupcakes from our favorite neighborhood cupcake shop!
What does it mean to be kind?
Once we established the Kindness Jar, we talked about different acts of kindness:
- Helping her sister when she falls down
- Sharing toys with each other
- Helping Mommy clear the table or empty the dishwasher
- Bringing her little sister her blanket
- Giving hugs when someone is sad
- Inviting friends to play with her
- Giving compliments (she’s ALL over this one – “Mama, I LOVE your hair!” – it’s great for the ego!)
She couldn’t wait to earn her first ‘kindness ball’… and we were off to the races.
The Power of Positive Reinforcement
The best thing about the Kindness Jar is it created a concrete means for offering positive reinforcement for the behaviors I wanted to see from my girls. Instead of giving them negative attention when they acted up (which don’t get me wrong, still happens), I was able to reinforce good behavior with a tangible reward. I felt far more successful parenting focusing on the positive, than constantly disciplining and refereeing the negative.
“Big M, I love the way you helped Lil’ M get her milk when she couldn’t reach it. I think that deserves a kindness ball!”
“Lil’ M, thank you so much for helping me unload the dishwasher! Let’s go pick out a kindess ball.”
Conversations like those, quickly outnumbered the times I had to send my preschooler to sit on the step for hurting my toddler. I could also change the momentum of the day by rewarding kindness balls – if Big M was having an off day, I would give Lil’ M a kindness ball or two, for being so sweet, and with the motivation of friendly sibling competition, the mood of the day is almost always shifted to the better.
Kindness Leads to Compassion
While many of our acts of kindness at first started out on a somewhat superficial level, they have quickly moved far deeper than that. Young children are very self-centric: my toys, my blanket, mine! Having compassion and empathy for others is something they must learn overtime. Nothing has filled my heart with more pride than when a fellow mom at Big M’s preschool told me how concerned and sweet she was to her daughter when she fell on the playground, and a few weeks later, how she rushed up to give her a hug and tell her how cute she looked that day.
I have also turned reprimands for negative behaviors into lessons of compassion. If Big M upsets Lil’ M, I sit down with both of them, and ask leading questions of Lil’ M to help Big M understand how she hurt her. Then I turn the questions to Big M: “How would you feel if Lil’ M took away your special blankie… or hit you in the head with a toy?” By understanding what kindness is, they both better understand what it is to be unkind. It cracks me up now when we watch a movie, like Cinderella, and Big M will look up at me with her big serious eyes after the villain says or does something mean, and say, “She’s not very nice, is she?”
We still have plenty of behavior we are working to correct, but I have seen so much improvement in the last 3 months, I cannot recommend this successful parenting strategy enough. I first wrote this 18 months ago, and at the end of this summer (my first with now 3 kids home all day), I found myself falling back into the role of referee. Implementing my own advice, the Kindness Jar has worked its magic again!
Books to Teach Kindness to Children
And because my favorite go to for reinforcing all lessons in our house is books, here are a few favorites to teach kindness through children’s books!
Check out this list for more great books to teach children about kindness!
I love this simple method for not only teaching my children important life and social skills, like kindness and empathy, but also because it helps me be a better parent, resulting in a successful parenting strategy that benefits our whole family. How do you teach kindness at your house?