Thursday, May 30, 2013

Reward and Consequence Jars

December is a hectic time in our house. Not only do we have the Christmas craziness to contend with, but we also welcome Sinterklaas, and celebrate our son's birthday. I grew up with a January birthday, and received a few more "this is your Christmas/birthday" gifts that I would have preferred, so we try to keep each event separate. Throw in another gift-giving occasion and it's easy to see how a certain little boy can have a hard time protecting himself from a bad case of the gimmees. 

This past December, D was newly four, and old enough to understand delayed gratification, responsibility, rewards and consequences. In addition to introducing the December List (which I need to write about in a future post) for him to write down the items he'd like and learning how much they cost, we also started using reward and consequence jars.

The basic idea we want to impart is that he always has a choice. He can make a right choice or a wrong  choice. That is up to him. When he makes a right choice, there may be a reward. And when he makes a wrong choice, there may be a consequence (we didn't want to use the word punishment or discipline). Most importantly, if he make a wrong choice, he can still choose to seek to make it right. (We made the above printable for his room to help him remember). 

This was a super easy project to do. The hardest part was coming up with creative rewards and consequences that would be meaningful for our son. We purposely avoided chores as consequences because we are teaching him that helping around the house is just part of being in a family. We don't want him to see chores as punishment. D loves trains, cars, space, books, technology, and time with mommy and daddy, so our list corresponds to these things. 

The first consequence I wrote down was "grace." As a family of faith, I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to teach D that grace is getting something better than we deserve. The first time D pulled the "grace" card, we had a great conversation about God's grace and it really hit home for him. It stuck with hi when we were on vacation and we didn't have the jars with us. He made a bad choice so I said, "I think you'll need a consequence for that." He got really quiet for a moment, and then he said, "I choose grace!"

As a general rule, we aren't rewarding with food, although we do have a few food-related rewards below. Rewards are given when he does something above our expectation, without asking to be rewarded for it. For example, if we are at the store, and without prompting, he holds a door open for a mommy with a young child. 

Our list of rewards includes:
  • play a game with Mommy or Daddy
  • stay up an extra 15 minutes at bedtime
  • 50 cents for the save jar
  • do a special project
  • make cookies with Mommy
  • go to the toy store (this does not mean getting something, but just to look. He has to save up for toys. He enjoys looking a toys and writing down what they cost so he can save up).
  • have a safe dessert
  • do a puzzle together
  • go to the library together
  • pick something from the save box (we have a box of toys, books, and small items that we can use for gifts in pinch, but also that D would like. They are things I pick up on sale for no particular occasion). 
  • watch a movie with popcorn
  • read an extra book at naptime or bedtime
  • 15 minutes on the iPad
  • "just the boy" car ride
  • 'Jama walk. (This is when he gets all ready for bed, but before he goes down, we take a walk around the neighborhood with him in his pajamas)
Our consequences include:
  • grace
  • no space shuttle for the rest of the day
  • no tv for the rest of the day
  • bedtime at 7pm (his normal bedtime is 8pm)
  • one less book at nap/bedtime (we normally read three)
  • no trains for the rest of the day
  • no blocks for the rest of the day
  • no using Mommy's iPad today
  • 15 minutes in your room alone
  • 50 cents from the spend jar to share jar
  • no Legos for the rest of the day
  • give away a book (this is his least favorite)
  • extra chore (because we are trying not to associate chores with punishment, this tends to be a special project that wouldn't be on a chore list, like putting away 10 items that are out of place)
  • no cars for the rest of the day
Another general rule we followed is that a consequence only lasts a day. A day is a long time to a preschooler. We are teaching him that God's mercies are new every morning, and so are mommy and daddy's. 

I cut up the strips, folded them tightly, and put them in the corresponding jars, which I labeled "rewards" and "consequence." Our smart boy started noticing when me and his daddy made good and bad choices because he wanted to get peeks at what the other strips said! He also started doing good things without being asked, but then said, "Do I get a reward now?" It only took a time or two of us reminding him that he doesn't get a reward if he asks for one, so now he's much sweeter about being helpful. 

For the most part, the jars are working out well. He does have a bit of the same stubborn streak that Niels and I both had, so sometimes he just chooses a consequence when he really wants to do something we've asked him not to do. That's clearly frustrating to us, but for the most part, he is understanding the correlation between his choices and the results of them, and his behavior has improved. 

Linked to: 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Jenga and a Heavy Heart

Toothaches and headaches and flu...oh my!

It's been awfully quiet here these last few weeks. We spent two weeks in Florida while Niels attended back to back conferences. The day after we got home, I got hit by a monster flu strain that has keep me dazed and confused for the last week and a half. And, while on vacation, I lost a filling, so have been dealing with a toothache for the last few weeks. Today, I'm finally well enough to get my tooth fixed, and the fog is finally lifting off my brain so hopefully we'll get back on track here.

If you've been following our blog for awhile, you may recall that I live with a brain injury. I'm very blessed that I am a high-functioning brain injury survivor. If you met me on the street, you wouldn't even know that I have a brain injury. One, because I don't look like I have a brain injury. And two, because the fact that I'm out means I'm having a good day. One bad days, I don't leave the house. On really bad days, I don't leave my bed.

It's been nine years since I've sustained my brain injury and all my months of therapy are over. I have regained as much as I will get back. For the rest, I have an excellent support system (hello, Niels!) and finely tuned coping mechanisms. For the most part, I know what situations to avoid, and I know to listen to Niels when he sees that I am getting symptomatic (showing signs that my brain is overloaded). It's taken a long time to get to this point and even still there are times when I push myself too hard and pay for it by having a few weeks where I'm just getting by until my brain recovers. I will never been a super consistent blogger because a brain-injured brain doesn't like deadlines and can't promise consistency. When I am feeling good and all my neurons are playing nicely, I love to share what I'm working on. But there will be times when I can't form a sentence and my brain is muddled, and then I will let myself rest.

I think all of us have our own tenderheartedness toward events and experiences that hit close to home. I think of a friend who is tireless in her work to raise money and support for breast cancer research after losing a friend to the disease. When we become parents, we can't help but hold our little ones closer when a fellow parent loses a child. For those of us whose wombs have not been a welcoming home for little lives, we easily weep with those whose empty arms ache to hold a child. Compassion stems from empathy, and I empathize with those who are affected by brain injury, children whose parents divorce, and couples for whom pregnancy is difficult.

This little reflective prose was sparked by the news that a friend of mine from Grand Rapids (where I lived for 8 years before moving to Ohio to get married) is in the hospital with a ruptured brain aneurysm. I know that there is little I can do for her and her family right now, but I hate that I'm too far away to give them the hugs I long to offer. She is headed into surgery in a few minutes and I am praying fervently for her medical team and God's healing hand.

Amy is one half of the most inspirational married couple I know. She and her husband, Tim were part of the Bible study I was in for several years following after my brain injury. In 2005, I wrote this post about them on my old blog.

I'm at an age where I've been to more than my share of weddings, and truthfully, I'm also at that age where I can be more cynical than celebratory. Reminds me of the old Friends episode, "I'm totally happy for you...well maybe, mostly happy and a teeny bit jealous...okay, mostly jealous, but still happy."

Most the weddings I've attended this year have been for couples a decade younger than me. When I was their age I thought it was crazy to get married so young. I wanted to get out there and establish myself as Miss Independent first. Well, I did that and now the pickins have definitely slimmed. From this side of things, I can appreciate the beauty and blessing of struggling together in those transitional 20s.

This weekend I attended the wedding of a couple who married in their the 80s. It was actually a recommitment ceremony and it will stand as one of the most emotional, memorable weddings, if not experiences, of my life.

This couple is part of my much-loved intergenerational small group. It has been an answer to prayer to find a few other people from different walks of life to share life with. (Side note: We first got together as part of our church's 40 Days of Purpose campaign and dubbed ourselves The Zeros because as a group, grace didn't rank very high on our giftedness. This weekend we realized how much God has taught us. Each family has faced a significant crisis since joining our group).

Last October, it looked like these two were going to divorce. The wife shared that she felt like their marriage was a Jenga game knocked over one too many times. She was staring at all the pieces and didn't have the desire or strength to put them together again. As a two-time child of divorce, it's very hard for me to hear this sort of thing because I know that divorce rarely solves problems. Couples who fight before they divorce fight after the divorce, whenever children are involved. So I sat and listened and God gave me a thought.

The next day I went to Meijer and bought a Jenga game...and a big ol' tube of Super Glue. I wrote a note to my friend saying something to the effect that she doesn't have the strength or desire to repair her marriage, which makes her ready to let God be the glue of their relationship.

At the wedding, this couple had a Jenga tower next to the communion elements. When they addressed the small group of us assembled, the husband and wife shared the litany of things God did to show them how the only one happy when a couple divorces is Satan. They shared the things that brought instability to their marriage and in one sweeping swoop knocked over the Jenga pieces. After a moment of letting that image sink in, they pulled out the Jenga tower I gave them. It was super glued together and they had written "Christ" on the center blocks, and Scripture and situations on the long pieces that described the process of rebuilding--everything from a marriage class they took to our small group. Then they took a three-strand cord and wrapped it around the tower.

That's just one example of the symbolism of this ceremony, and the most personal to me, but the whole event created such an amazingly wonderful demonstration of the choice to love...and to keep loving. For our small group, it was incredibly powerful to revisit all those moments that we shared that led this much-loved couple to reconcile. For me, as the token single, it was a healing affirmation that God sometimes uses us best in the areas where we are weakest and can do nothing but trust Him to lead us on.

Amy and Tim have a long, hard road ahead of them. I pray for healing for Amy. I am praying that this woman, wife, mother, teacher, and friend will recover her personality and abilities and come to love--as I have--life in the slow lane, for however long she's riding in it. I pray that she can remember her value in who she is, simply because of who she is, and not because of what she can or cannot do. I am praying for her husband because I think brain injury is in some ways harder for the spouse who remembers more than the survivor. For Tim, I am praying strength as he makes decisions for Amy, as he watches her struggle, and he pushes and supports her to make strides in her recover. I am praying that he is able to love Amy with an utterly selfless love, and remain consistent in that love regardless of how Amy is able to respond in the weeks and months ahead. I also pray protection for them both. It's easy to get overwhelmed by the work to be done, depressed by the slow progress, and grief-stricken by the losses. I know how pervasive the temptation is to fall into self-pity. I pray that the challenges ahead draw them closer and do not form a wedge. I pray that this is just the next chapter in their amazing love story.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Home Again!

After two weeks in Orlando, we are very happy to be back at the dream house! Niels had back-to-back conferences, so Marissa, D, and I had lots of time to explore the non-Mouse attractions in Florida. One of the absolute highlights of our trip was spending the day at my blogger buddy, Lauren's beautiful lake house. You can read her version of our craft day adventure on her blog, The Thinking Closet. Here we are meeting for the first time and picking out supplies.

I am very happy to report that the amazing Lauren has cured me of my fear of my Cameo. In fact, she helped me with not one, but two projects! Here's a sneak peak at what I made for our space-obsessed son in preparation for our trip to the Kennedy Space Center. 

And here's a peek at my updated version of a project that needs a little updating.

I look forward to sharing these tutorials, plus some of my favorite projects of Lauren' the near future!

Sunday, May 12, 2013


As you may have noticed, we're taking a short break away from our computers to enjoy the great outdoors. I have lots of posts in the works, including my first Silhouette project! In the meantime, I had to post a quick thank you to everyone who has visited our site and all our new followers on Facebook, Pinterest, and Bloglovin' for getting us to our 300,000 page view in record time! We appreciate your company, so please come back soon!
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