Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Losing My Marbles: A Progress Report

It's been an interesting almost two weeks. I'm down to 16 marbles from 45--excellent progress considering we've just come off of a week's holiday with few, if any, time constraints. The words, 'supper's ready,' are now consistently followed by a singsong-y, "Okay, Mommy!" from Mouse. That's not to say she immediately drops what she's doing, but it's a huge improvement over the ear-splitting 'no's' of yore. Even Emma's jumped into the fray, insisting on an empty jar of her own. To be truthful, I hesitated at first. After all, I perceived Emma to be a transition champion, particularly at mealtimes when Mouse was at her worst. But in the end I caved. Why not? There were only marbles to lose.

Here's a fly-on-the-wall perspective of the marbles in action:

Emma the Brave comes into the kitchen after having brushed her teeth before bed. Mouse is still dawdling, singing to herself instead of doing her bedtime washing up. As Emma brings our jars to the table, Mouse snaps back into reality and runs to bathroom to finish getting ready.

Earlier in the evening I'd listed the specific instances when I'd said, "It's time..." during the day and posted them on the kitchen chalk board:
  • leaving for school in the morning
  • leaving for school after lunch
  • turning off the video
  • bath time
  • dinner time
  • getting ready for bed
I show Emma what I've written and within seconds she's read it and done the math. "I get six marbles," she says, reaching for my jar.

"Not so fast," I say, sliding my jar away. "Let's go through them one by one. How did you do at leaving for school in the morning?"

"Good," she says.

I nod and hold up one finger. "And after lunch?"

"Good again."

Two fingers. "You're right. How about turning off the video?"

Emma holds up a hand, palm down, and rocks it back and forth. "Not so good."

"I would agree." She'd been really enjoying Lazy Town. It took multiple requests for her to turn it off after her one episode had finished. "And bath time?"

"Good." Three fingers.

"And the last two?"

"Good and good," she says and helps herself to five marbles.

At this point Mouse pads into the kitchen. "Now me," she says.

Mouse and I go through the same procedure as I'd done with Emma. In the end, she gets five out of a possible six marbles, having missed one thanks to her after dinner dawdle which comes as no surprise. With their marbles safely tucked away, the two compare notes and are relieved to discover that, in the end, they were the same, at least in the marble department.

There's a lot I like about this experiment in parenting. It demands that I be clear about my requests and pick my battles. There are times when I am open to negotiation and times when I'm not. These times are now far more clearly divided. It also allows the girls and I to reflect back on our day together, accounting for all successes and opportunities for improvement in a calm and relatively objective manner. Last but not least, it ensures the Captain and I are on the same page in the expectations department. Nothing undermines child-rearing faster than a weak link in the parental chain.

So here's the question: do I keep up with the marble jars once they earn their reward? We'll see. If so, I'll have to get bigger jars or smaller marbles. They're just getting to damn good!


  1. You are so smart. Cool parenting strategy.

  2. There's something else here...The kids are now taking responsibility for their actions to earn their rewards...They are making choices.
    They are learning self-discipline.

    When are you going to write that creative parenting book lady????
    (the nag)

  3. Yet once again, make the rest of us feel like complete parenting nincompoops (sp?). Sigh...add this on as chapter 16 in your parenting manual for the rest of us dummies :)

  4. Yeah, when are you going to write (and publish) that parenting book? I need to be first in line to read it...and first in line to cash your pay check !!!