This is, by far, the most easy and effective reward system for kids that I have done. As an elementary teacher, I tried them all (here are 5 reward charts that I’ve tried)!
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I had marbles, stickers, charts… and then I tried Cotton Balls in our own home! This worked great and I have used this in our own home for over three years. We have four kids and this works with ALL of them.
(Even their friends try to earn cotton balls to take home! haha!)
I have not had to stray from this easy reward system and it never fails me! It sets a focus on the positive things that your children do!
Fill up your jar with cotton balls. Easy enough, right?
Their choice (within reason) – NOT AN OBJECT! They have their choice of DOING something fun. Our boys usually pick to go bowling with Dad or to a movie with Mom or to have a sleepover in our room (on the floor in their sleeping bags.) Movie night with pizza and popcorn is also a hit! Swimming at the Y (indoor pool) is also a huge hit.
- Each of our kids have a jar. Each jar has a rubber band on it. The rubber band serves the purpose of a “fill line”.
- Our oldest child has his rubber band higher on the jar because he has to get more cotton balls, since he is older.
- As they get older (each year), the rubber band moves higher up (with their increased age comes higher expectations), until around six years old, when I remove the rubber band and they simply have to fill the jar.
- You can make them like I did or you could use chalkboard paint on your jar & draw on the fill line with chalk, so that it is easily moveable as they get older.
- It takes the kids about 2 weeks to a month to fill up the cotton ball jar, because it is a special thing and is not given for every little thing that they do.
- Although at first, you will want to make it fill up a little quicker so that they are able to get their first reward.
- Once they do this, they will understand what they are working towards.
- Remind them when that first reward comes “This is because you filled up your cotton balls! I’m so glad that you did because this is so much fun!”
- Sometimes I will use cotton balls as incentive: “If you ____, you will earn an extra cotton ball today.” (Works great for this, but I don’t do this too often because I don’t want it to lose its real purpose.)
- I do not give them out for doing their chores (see age-appropriate chore list here). These cotton balls are special and come when they do something that was NOT asked of them. Sometimes they will ask “Can I have a cotton ball for that?” and I will say yes, but when that question starts to come more often, I just start saying ‘No, honey. I will tell you when I think you should get one.”
How do they earn a cotton ball?
They earn one by doing something nice and unexpected. Here are some examples:
- If one child spills their food/drink and the other helps to clean it up (without being asked!)
- If I need something from downstairs and they go to get it for me (without being asked)
- If I catch them doing something or SAYING something kind to each other or to someone else.
It is easy and effective. It has not let me down yet. Oh! When they are towards the end (with about 5 cotton balls to go), they will be REALLY trying hard!
Last night, two of our kids had less than two cotton balls to go in their jars before they were filled and they were doing everything to get them: cleaning their room, getting their brother and sister’s pajamas ready, telling each other how great they were… (Its so fun to watch them work towards the “finish line”) but it worked and they are bowling right now with my husband! They were so excited all day, waiting to go bowling (and play at the arcade at the bowling alley).
When they left to go, I emptied the cotton balls from their jars and put them in their ziplock bag and back into the drawer in the kitchen right under where I keep the jars. I keep the jars on my counter, next to my refrigerator. Its not the prettiest placement, but it is pretty much hidden in the corner of the counter closest to the refrigerator, except that the kids can see it every time that they are in the kitchen and they are able to keep track of it.
- I also take cotton balls away, too, but NOT OFTEN. At times, when their behavior is very uncalled for (being rude and talking back), they will lose a cotton ball. This is a big deal and they are very upset about it. They work extra hard to ‘earn it back’, which can also be done. If you start taking them away often, you are going to lose the ‘power’ that this has because it is going to take them too long to get their goal.
- I don’t give out money or toys for doing well and filling their jar. I want it to be something special with “someone” (quality time) instead of with “something”
- SIMPLY PUT: DO GOOD- GET A COTTON BALL. FILL YOUR JAR- DO SOMETHING SPECIAL WITH MOM & DAD (or even have a sleepover at their grandparent’s house or cousin’s house).
- Oh, and you can easily have the jars be something cute. Mine are plain, glass jars (they were spaghetti sauce jars), but you could have the kids decorate them. You could also use a little chalkboard paint to paint them and draw on the line (instead of using a rubber band) and write their names on them.
I hope this helped! It has worked wonderfully in our home!
UPDATE: **Another idea that we recently came across was these Character Badges.
So it comes with charts with achievements that encourage them to be on their BEST behavior. They also have consequences in case they aren’t behaving. The charts are:
It comes with metal character coins that you can save up for rewards.
Anyway- our kids love it (and I’ve told their teachers about it & they want it for their classrooms). You can find it here.
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