How Theo Earns Marbles, So I Don’t Lose Mine

Theo is four and a half, and a pretty good kid. Four has been a good year for us so far. The 2-3 years, on the other hand, were…not so good.

No, that’s not true.

They were awful.

I’ve heard from a lot of other parents that the 2-3 age range has been their hardest too, which helps me feel a little bit less like the struggle was because I’m a horrible mother. But you know, we had those days too.

Anyways. So Theo is sort of a strong willed child. (Laughing hysterically as I typed that. He is totally strong willed. No “sort of” about it.) He knows what he wants and he will not be deterred in his efforts to get what it. He is creative. Imaginative. Smart. And really, really, physical. All this adds up to one thing: trouble.

My biggest struggle with Theo has been trying to figure out how to motivate him with the type of positive/negative reinforcement that both communicates my expectations while teaching Theo how to control himself, as opposed to me simply exerting control over him, something that I believe won’t do any of us any good now or in the future.

One of my friends suggested a fun way to reward/punish behavior that involved marbles. Basically, you purchase marbles and use it a behavior currency. Your child earns marbles for good behavior, and loses them for bad.

I’ve failed to be able to motivate Theo through any of the other discipline tactics that I’ve tried over the years so I thought, “What the heck, let’s give the marbles a try.”

How Theo Earns Marbles, So I Don't Lose Mine

I took Theo shopping at the Dollar Tree and allowed him to pick out the marbles and the container that he will put them in. We then agreed on the ways he can earn and lose marbles:


Eating his meals

Listening to instructions the first time given

Being kind to Oliver

Completing chores such as helping set/clear the table, picking up his room, and helping fold his laundry

Correctly identifying letter of his name in other things that he sees, such as the “t” in a stop sign


Not eating

Refusing to listen (or simply needing to be told repeatedly to do something)

Being mean to Oliver

Not completing tasks/chores

Grabs more marbles to put into the jar than I’ve instructed. (He has only done this once, but it really ticked me off. I told him he could put two marbles in, he grabbed five. The result? He lost all of his marbles in the jar. Tough love baby!)

How Theo Earns Marbles, So I Don't Lose Mine

The goal of all this, is to earn marbles for tv time. Theo is, after all, my son, and there is nothing we love more than watching tv. Up to this point, I simply had a fixed amount of time that he was allowed to watch each week. Now, however, he has to “pay” for his tv time with his marbles. No marbles, no tv. Each show costs two marbles (Most kid’s shows on Netflix are only around 15 minutes in length), or six marbles for a movie. This will be tough, because we might want to do a family movie night sometime but Theo won’t have enough marbles to pay for it, and that will have to be that!

So far, this experiment seems to be going well. Theo has been really excited to earn marbles, and even more surprisingly, loves paying for his show. I don’t know why, he just does!

Hopefully the luster doesn’t wear off anytime soon, because I think we are on to a good thing here!

What about you? Any other creative ways to motivate kids? I’d love to hear from you!

2 thoughts on “How Theo Earns Marbles, So I Don’t Lose Mine

  1. I love this! Just wondered if this is taking the place of “time outs” and other forms of correction or if it is in addition to those things.

    1. Sheila, Very good question. The goal for us is to have Theo realize that he is choosing good behavior or bad behavior, with the reward or consequence being linked to the marbles. So far, we are just using the marbles to reinforce that. However, I will say that I still use “time outs” frequently during the day just to allow Theo to collect himself and calm down in moments where his behavior is about to go off the rails, but doesn’t quite warrant losing a marble. Does that make sense? All very experimental at this point, lol.

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