Implementing the Grab Bag for child behavior

Check out how this mom from I’m Still Learning uses a Grab Bag to help with her kids.

I should mention, through the years I’ve tried so many rewards systems that never seemed to stick for us – sticker charts, cotton ball jars, points system… you name it, I’ve tried it.

I love the idea of a sticker chart, but it never stuck in my house (get it? Stuck? ha ha!)

Then I developed GRAB BAG. It was the first day of school back in September.  You know how it is in the beginning of the school year… you’re bound and determined to be the best mom on the planet with kids who are the awesomest on the planet.

So, I dropped my boys off at school that warm September morning and kept right on driving to Target (my weakness in life) to pick up a few things. While there, it hit me: I’m gonna fill a bag with goodies for my kids — crap that I usually don’t like them to have.  When they do something well or behave in a way that makes mama proud, they’ll get to stick their hand in a goodie bag for a surprise treat.

I’ve never had a rewards system last more than a month.  We’re now approaching the end of the school year and GRAB BAG is still going strong!

Here’s my criteria:

  • Positive feedback from the teacher: This is a biggie! If they were a really good listener that day or asked good questions during carpet time or followed instructions really well, GRAB BAG.  What doesn’t get rewarded is if I ask the teacher how they did that day and she responds with a, “good” or “not bad.”  That’s expected.  But if they’ve made progress with a problem area, that gets rewarded. For example, my 9-year old struggles with focusing sometimes.  If his teacher tells me that she saw him really trying to sit still and listen, that counts.  He’s trying and making progress. GRAB BAG!
  • Progress in TaeKwon Do: This activity is a very disciplined sport.  A lot is required of my boys.  Classes are three times a week.  It’s hard work and not always fun.  If they make an advancement towards the next belt or get Student of the Day from the instructor, GRAB BAG!
  • When they do something unexpected: My 7-year old tends to surprise me with things.  He sometimes will clean a room without being asked or do his reading without me even reminding him to.  GRAB BAG!
  • Being nice to others: If I notice that they shared when they weren’t told to or that they comforted someone who was in pain or upset, GRAB BAG!
  • When they clean — really clean: After a day of playing in the basement playroom, it’s usually trashed!  So, I’ll yell down to them, “if you clean the basement – and clean it good – they you can each get GRAB BAG!  It’s amazing just how thoroughly they put their junk away.
  • Good report card: This is sort of a no-brainer.  Many kids get rewarded for a good report card. And so with mine, it’s GRAB BAG.
  • Positive reinforcement for scary things:  If they face something that scares them, GRAB BAG. For example, after they’ve had a shot at the doctor, I usually tell them how brave they were (even if they were scared and crying the whole time) and reward them for it. This positive reinforcement will help them to see that even when they have to do something icky, it’s not all bad.

I also use it to pry information out of my kids.  Sometimes, I’ll tell them that whoever gives me the most detail about their day will get GRAB BAG.  It has to be things I didn’t already know. Only problem with this is, I end up getting such a deep level of detail that I even learn the peeing schedule of their classmates.

As for what they get when they stick their hand into the magical bag, I’ve had to do a little trial and error. Here are the things that make my little Pavlovian beasts salivate:

  • Crap Candy – juicy drop pops, ring pops, Sweedish fish, etc…  This is crap the Dentist would lecture me about if only he knew (I don’t intend to tell him).
  • Target $5 Gift Card – my kids are old enough to know that this means they can buy a little treat for themselves.  When they were younger and needed more instant gratification, this may not have worked as well.
  • Fart Putty – you know, that stupid gooey stuff that comes in a little plastic container that when you press it makes a
    farting noise.  My kids love this, of course! What’s not to love?
  • Astronaut Ice Cream – I found this at Old Navy, believe it or not.  It’s freeze dried ice cream that comes in a pack.  If you haven’t tried it, it’s pretty cool.
  • iTunes Gift Cards – My kids just got iPod Touches for Christmas.  The rule is, they can’t download songs or games unless they have a gift card or a credit of some sort. So this ends up being a huge incentive for them!

GRAB BAG has helped me to accomplish a lot with my kids.  It’s worked so well, I’m thinking of instituting a similar program for my husband.  Maybe, just maybe, he’ll eventually learn to put his shoes AWAY!

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