With just an empty jar and a pile of pom poms, this positive parenting strategy will help you encourage a culture of kindness in your family and create a happier, more peaceful home.
I have three boys who LOVE to create chaos in my house. They are loud, dirty, and sometimes destructive.
They are also creative, helpful, and big-hearted.
They really are good kids. However, when I’m tired, I sometimes forget to notice all the good they do. It’s easy to fall into the habit of only calling out my kids for their less-than-stellar behavior and overlook all the moments when they did something right.
Sometimes, I’m still reeling from the twenty-minute emotional therapy session that was required before we could start homework time, and I don’t notice how my son read his book so much more confidently than he read the same words yesterday.
Sometimes, I’m hiding in the bathroom for just two minutes to myself, so I don’t see how my six-year-old played peek-a-boo with his baby brother to keep him happy.
Sometimes, I’m busy sweeping up a pile of spilled Cheerios, so I don’t notice my four-year-old putting his plate in the dishwasher without being asked.
But those good things are happening…right alongside all the exhausting, loud, chaotic messes. There are hugs and kind deeds happening in between all the fights about who-called-who-what first.
When I look for them, I see these rays of hope that tell me these crazy kiddos are probably going to turn out just fine.
So, I’m trying to notice the good more often. One way I’m doing that is by using a strategy we lovingly call the “warm fuzzy jar.”
Before I delve into the details of how the jar works, let’s talk just a bit more about why it’s worth doing.
Why praise matters
Why bother praising kids at all?
First, because of something my dad taught me years ago:
People know their weaknesses. They don’t need you to point them out. But, tell them what they are doing well, and you will inspire them to do it more often.
Second, because research backs up everything my wise father said.
“Giving attention to undesired behaviors increases undesired behaviors, while giving attention to good behaviors increases good behaviors,” says Alan E. Kazdin, PhD, a Yale University psychology professor and director of the Yale Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic.
Okay, praise is good. Check.
Hang on a minute, though.
It’s important to make sure that we’re using the right kind of praise.
Is there a wrong kind of praise? you ask.
Yes, actually, there is.
Three keys to praising kids effectively
Research shows that to be effective, praise must be the following:
- within the child’s control
First, be sincere. Kids can tell when we’re making up praise, especially as they get older. They need to be able to trust that when we offer praise, we are genuinely proud of them. Otherwise, they will reject our praise as just an attempt to manipulate them.
Second, be specific. Saying “good job” doesn’t do a child much good. What exactly did the child do well? If you don’t spell it out, they may have no idea. Describe exactly what you observed. For example, you could say, “Wow, you just shared that toy with your brother. Look how happy he is.” Or, “You got 100 percent on your spelling test. Hooray! All that practice paid off!”
Third, praise things that are within your child’s power to control and change. Avoid praising innate characteristics or intellect such as, “You are so smart” or “you are such a pretty girl.” Focus instead on praising effort, attitude, and progress. This kind of praise promotes what experts call a growth mindset and teaches kids that they are in control of their fate.
A fun strategy for praising kids more often
Alright, now that we’re all on the same page about why and how to praise kids, I’m ready to share with you the positive parenting strategy that helps me remember to praise my kids regularly.
The WARM FUZZY JAR!
The concept of a warm fuzzy jar has been floating around for years…decades, really. Still, it has been such a positive thing in my family that I wanted to share our experience for the benefit of others.
I have to give credit to my brilliant sister for starting the warm fuzzies in our house two years ago. At that time, my husband and I had the rare opportunity to go to Europe for ten days, and my sister agreed to take care of our two boys while we were away (brave woman!). Well, when we came back from our trip, my boys were raving about the warm fuzzy jar and they asked if we could keep doing it.
Two years later, it’s still going strong.
How does it work?
It’s super simple. Whenever I catch my kids being particularly helpful or kind, I thank them and tell them they can add a warm fuzzy to the jar.
When the jar is full, they earn the chance to do a special activity. This can be something free, like a movie night at home with popcorn, or it can be an outing somewhere fun–like to the nickelcade or the dollar store. Our reward activities typically cost less than ten dollars total, and it usually takes us a couple of months to fill our jar.
Examples of things that make mom feel warm and fuzzy:
- resolving a disagreement respectfully without mom’s help
- doing a service for another family member
- getting ready to leave the house quickly without mom nagging
- cleaning up with a good attitude
- helping with baby brother
- having a good attitude about something disappointing
- Working hard at something difficult without giving up
The one and only rule…
There’s really only ONE rule with warm fuzzies: you can’t do something nice and then ASK for a warm fuzzy.
My boys know that they have to be willing to do the good deed without the expectation of reward, but I try to catch them doing good deeds often. Sometimes, I’ll even give more than one warm fuzzy for EXTRA good deeds.
And, yes, sometimes I use it a little bit as a bribe by saying, “You know, it would really make me feel warm and fuzzy if you would do [fill in the blank] for me.” (Like, run downstairs and get your brother’s blanket so I don’t have to go back down for the hundredth time today). I try to keep it a spontaneous reward, not a dangling carrot, but sometimes I just can’t bear the thought of climbing the stairs one more time, ya know?
Do we ever remove warm fuzzies for negative behaviors?
No. As much as it’s sometimes tempting to use the warm fuzzies as leverage, I want the warm fuzzy jar to be a purely positive experience for my kids. It’s a way to fill their bucket literally and figuratively. We have other consequences for poor choices, but no bad behavior will ever take away the good that they did. The good deeds cannot be erased, and their positive influence continues to grow with more good choices. To me, that’s a powerful message.
Ready to make your own warm fuzzy jar?
Here’s what you’ll need…
- A jar
- pom poms (easy to find at the dollar store)
- Printable “warm fuzzy” label for your jar
Really, that’s it. It’s also good to have a jar to hold the warm fuzzies before they get moved into the official “warm fuzzy” jar, just to keep everything together (think of it as a “start” jar). Otherwise you may end up with pom poms strewn all over your house.
TIP: Fill your warm fuzzy jar with the number of pom poms you want your kids to earn before you start. Then empty them into your “start” jar. This way, there is no debate about when the jar is full. (Kids are impressive at finding ways to “fill” the jar by fluffing up the pom poms). When the last pom pom gets moved from the “start” jar to the warm fuzzy jar, they earn their reward. Easy peasy!
What do you think of this idea? Have you used warm fuzzies (or something similar) with your kids?