About a year ago, my daughter, then almost 3 years old, started to act out a lot. We couldn’t figure out why or pinpoint anything specific that could be causing it. My husband and I spent a lot of time discussing what we should do and as we talked, we realized that she responded really well to positive reinforcement. It’s not like we weren’t giving her positive attention. We said “thank you” when she did something we asked and praised her when she did something well. But we noticed that when we used specifics to communicate positive reinforcement, she would do more things to receive more praise from us and the “bad” things she was doing decreased. For example, instead of just saying “thank you” when she followed directions, we would say, “thank you for being a good listener”. When we noticed her being kind to her brother without being asked, we said, “you are such a good big sister to your brother.” So while we noticed an increase in the kind of behavior we wanted to see, we also recognized that she is still a little girl, and little girls (and boys) sometimes need a little extra push to be good.
This is where we introduced the “warm fuzzies jar”. A warm fuzzies jar is a tool we use to help our daughter physically see the good things she is doing in a very tangible way. It is simply a container (we use a small mason jar) that we put in a visible place on the counter. When she does something good, such as listening the first time we ask her to do something, taking the initiative to do something without being asked, being kind, etc., she gets a little pom-pom ball, or warm fuzzy, to put in her jar. We have various sizes of fuzzies so if she did something really great, we’d give her a big fuzzy as an extra way to say ‘good job.’ When the jar got filled to the top, she received a small prize. My daughter loves ice cream cones from our local grocery store and so we promised her her very own ice cream cone when the jar was filled to the top. It took her about a month or so, but she finally filled her warm fuzzies jar and got her ice cream cone. She was so happy!
The concept of encouraging and rewarding positive behavior isn’t new. However, I think that sometimes we forget that kids are just that–kids. They are still learning and developing. We can’t expect them to just choose to be good without any kind of reinforcement. It’s also important to be sincere and not go over the top with our praise. Kids are really good at discerning sincere from insincere. (They are also really good at manipulation, but that’s another topic for another day…)
One of the biggest reasons I like using the warm fuzzy jar to encourage positive behavior is because it helps me focus on the things my daughter is doing right and well and good. I enjoy watching my daughter to succeed in something she’s trying to do better in. And it helps me be a better mom by remembering that she is a little girl who is still learning how to be good. I’ve noticed that when I’m looking for ways to reward her, that I see the positive and I don’t focus nearly as much on the negative.
If you think that starting a warm fuzzies jar for your kids would be helpful, here are a few things to keep in mind that will help the program run more smoothly:
- Only reward positive behavior with a warm fuzzy.
- Do not take away warm fuzzies as a form of punishment. You want your kids to associate the fuzzies with positive behavior and it will confuse them if you use the fuzzies as a punishment or consequence for negative behavior.
- Let your kids decorate their jar/container.
- Put the jar/container in an easy to see place on the counter (my daughter’s is in the kitchen).
- Allow your kids to choose their fuzzy and put it in their jar/container themselves.
- If you think using a different item to fill the jar would work better for your child, do it! You could easily use plastic coins or marshmallows instead of fuzzies.
- Sit your kids down and explain to them how the program works. You can even role play to give them examples of behaviors that will earn them fuzzies.
- As a parent, try to pay close attention to your child(ren) throughout the day and be quick to reward them. This helps them remember what behavior is positive and earns them fuzzies.
- I don’t recommend using warm fuzzies as a form of bribery, since the goal here is to help them learn how to behave positively on their own.
- We started this program when my daughter was almost 3, so she was at a stage where she knew when she was doing something good or bad (in many cases). I probably wouldn’t start any younger than around 3, but you could definitely modify this as your kids get older. For example, if your child is motivated by money, you could reward them with coins instead of fuzzies.
One last thing I want to mention is that this program isn’t meant to be used indefinitely. If you use it for too long, it won’t have the same effect on your child. It is more of a short term tool (a month or two) you can use if you feel like your child needs a little extra motivation to work on their behavior. For younger kids, the instant gratification of receiving a warm fuzzy is just as exciting as the prize they get at the end. For older kids, the warm fuzzy might not mean as much, but the prize at the end may be what keeps them focused.
What programs/systems have you used to help encourage positive behavior in your own kids?