Marble Rules are in Effect for the Duration




Over the past year I’ve tried several motivational tactics with the kids to curb poor behavior and reward great responsibility.


Responsibility Charts

The first was a Responsibility Chart for Son. Melissa and Doug make a nice wooden version of this but I took the cheaper and more personalizable route and bought a simple wipe-off laminated sheet of paper with columns across the top and rows down the side. I wrote the days across the top and down the side listed things like:


  • No hitting
  • No potty words
  • Wash hands before meals (without protesting!)
  • Clean up toys
  • Sleep in bed all night


Since he can’t read, we had fun drawing little pictures to represent the directive. We could also change the item based on what he needed to work on that week.


Each day he succeeded in doing or refraining from the item, he received a happy face sticker (the peel off kind). When he totaled 10 stickers, he got:


  1. To pick whatever he wanted for breakfast (aka choc chip pancakes)
  2. A movie from the library
  3. An outing with Mom or Dad (well, I actually never thought of this one until now but it sounds like a good idea!)


This worked for awhile until we both lost interest.


Marble Attempt #1

As Son internalized his basic responsibilities we were ready for Level II Motivational Tactic. This also seemed like a good idea as Son and Daughter’s interactions became part of the problem. So we turned to Marbles. I had started hearing about this technique from a few friends and our pediatrician recommended it as well.


“You give them a marble as reward for specific good behavior,” she told me. “The most effective ones are when it’s an unexpected reward like ‘You really helped me clean up the kitchen today. Here’s a marble.’ After they earn ten marbles, they can buy a toy. Each marble is worth about a dollar.”


Then she added the clincher. “But when they do something wrong, you take a marble away.” Uh, yeah, this would be the devastating part.


Okay, I’ll give this a go.


For the first attempt, I wrote their names with Sharpies on little plastic containers, explained the process and gave them their containers to hold onto for marbles.


Sure enough, they loved getting marbles and threw tantrums when I took one away. And as the marbles started to accrue, they whisked those little containers away and hid them in their rooms. The marbles were counted and played with and spread into tiny, hidden corners out of sight.


“Oh no,” a friend reprimanded me. “You keep the containers in the kitchen. Some place on display where they can’t reach them. Then everyone can see how many marbles they’ve earned.” And I keep control of the marble tactic.


Marble Attempt #2

So, I searched out the little containers, sans marbles, and put them on the windowsill above the kitchen sink. And I sold the goal of reaching 10 marbles. This, of course, is the biggest criteria for success. You gotta keep selling that goal or they can’t see why they need to earn and keep each little marble.


And sure enough, the unexpectedly bestowed marble for good behavior brought joy and pride.


They each eventually reached ten marbles and we made a special outing to Target where they could purchase a toy worth up to $10. This provided some new education on the price of things and it actually went well. They got the concept and felt some attachment to the ten they had earned and thus didn’t push for pricier items.


Slowly after the goal was reached, we all lost interest in our marbles.


Marble Attempt #3

Then this week, I pulled out our old Marble tactic and turned it on its head. Son and Daughter have become little Olympians, competing for every possible daily event.


“I got more cereal than you!”


“I got mine first!”


“Na na na na na!”


I couldn’t live with it any longer.


“Okay!” I announced the other morning as they sat at the counter eating cereal, having just one upped the other on a handful of meager accomplishments.


I walked over to the counter and grabbed two red plastic transparent cups left over from a weekend party. I walked around to a drawer and pulled out a Sharpie. They watched me. What is she doing?


I wrote their names on each cup and opened a cabinet to access my old stash of Marbles. I deposited five marbles in each cup. Their eyes widened.


“Here’s the deal,” I told them. “We’re going to do marbles a little differently. You each get five to start with just for being the great kids you woke up to be. Each time you say ‘I did something better than you’ to each other or use an unkind tone or hit or name call, I’ll take a marble away.”


They stared at me, processing this new approach.


“So at the end of today, you can have all five of your marbles or some or none.”


“You mean zero,” Daughter piped in.




“What do we get if we keep our marbles?” Son cut right to the chase.


I hadn’t thought that far. “Your father and I will decide something special for you to have if you keep your marbles,” I said authoritatively.


Daughter lost two marbles within about two minutes. Son kept his. I guess the old, ‘it’s easier to save what you already have’ method works with marbles and kids, too.


By mid-morning things started to slip.


“All marble rules are still in effect for the remainder of the day!” I declared.


They looked at me rather quizzically. But they got the gist.


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