Do you feel like you’re stuck in a vicious cycle of criticizing your children’s behavior? “It is not okay to hit your brother.”  “Do not use your shirt as a napkin.” “No. You may not put my lipstick on the dog!”

All of us have a negativity bias. This means that we tend to hear – and focus – on negative things more readily than positive things. This is why the news is predominantly negative, bad news captures and keeps our attention.

According to the Harvard Business Review, the ideal ratio for praise-to-criticism in adults is roughly six to one. That means that for every critical thing you say, you need to offer six positive comments just to level the playing field. In an article cleverly titled “Five to One gets the job Done,” the American Psychological Association suggests a similar ratio, saying that parents and teachers need to offer children five approvals for every one disapproval.

Think about how many intentionally, or unintentionally, negative things you say to your kids daily. Are you offering six affirmations to counterbalance that?

I know I wasn’t. I was spending more time correcting poor behavior than I was praising good behavior. After all, good behavior is expected. Why should I reward it?

If I want to encourage good behavior, however, then I need to make a concerted effort observe it and acknowledge it. Enter the Yes Jar (which was a spin-off on an idea suggested by Empowered to Connect to build trust and attachment in children).

The Yes Jar is a large, clear jar filled with a variety of different goodies. Instead of focusing on my children’s negative behavior, when I “catch” someone doing something right, I offer constructive praise and then I send them to the Yes Jar. 

According to Faber and Mazlish, the authors of “How to Listen So Kids Will Talk and Talk So Kids Will Listen,”* descriptive praise helps builds positive and realistic self-image in children. Descriptive praise means describing what you saw or felt, instead of offering an evaluation. For example:  “I saw you make your own lunch. That was very responsible.” or, “You took your plate to the sink without being reminded. Thanks! Now the kitchen feels so nice and clean.”  

Our Yes Jar has only been in action for a few months but already we’re seeing positive results. It’s easy to understand why. Even as an adult, I like it when someone notices what I’m doing right! Would you rather hear: “Aww! Salad for dinner again.” or “Thanks for trying to get us to eat healthy even when we don’t want to.”

A few caveats: The Yes Jar doesn’t mean you get away with bad behavior. It’s just a tool to help foster good behavior. Because I want the motivation for good behavior to be intrinsic, not extrinsic, you don’t get to visit the Yes Jar every time you do something right. Also, in our house, you can’t ask to visit the Yes Jar. In our house, asking automatically voids your chances of going.  The Yes Jar is meant to be an unexpected bonus, not a guaranteed reward.

If need a few suggestions for what to put in the Yes Jar, here’s what we put in ours:

  • Stickers
  • Tattoos
  • Grow-in-water toys (I raided the clearance section after the last holiday and found these for pennies.)
  • Candy (any leftover candy from holidays or birthdays goes in here)
  • Coupon entitling you to a game with mom and dad (Connect 4, Uno, Memory. thumb wrestling)
  • Pass to stay awake 5 minutes past bedtime
  • Coupon for a 2-song dance party (cashable immediately)
  • Coupon for French fries or an ice cream cone (which you can cash in on the weekend)
  • Coupon for a story read aloud
  • No chore of your choice pass
  • Coupon to play a computer game

I used a clear jar so that the kids could see the stickers or candy that they were choosing. The coupons and passes are folded, however, so that choosing one of those involves an element of chance, making the whole thing more fun. Even when only one child is selected to go the Yes Jar, my other kids look in, making the Yes Jar positive reinforcement for everyone.

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