Losing our marbles

marble jar system

marble jar system

On Friday I re-introduced the marble jar. Rosie has been acting out, as some of you know, and I have been rather rubbish at finding a way to manage her anger. So, I weather the punches, slaps, bites and insults, until I blow my top and shout back, thus unleashing another cycle of rage and despair.

When I am in the worst stages of PMT (that’s PMS for my Canadian/US readers), it takes me less time to blow my top.

So, on Friday, I re-introduced a reward system. I used a few when Rosie was younger – star charts, a marble jar, that kind of thing. They worked, but eventually, they petered out. I got lazy, I guess. Her recent behaviour has been so poor, however, that I realise it’s high time I get back to them and make a big deal whenever Rosie does something kind or good.

Thus the marble jar. Rosie has constructed an elaborate (all her games are elaborate) system for the marbles which involves the empty shells of a coconut, one Bonne Maman jam jar and an empty Tiptree Preserves jar. The loose marbles are stored in the coconut shell, which sits over the mouth of the Bonne Maman jar. Next to it sits the collecting jar, aka. Tiptree Preserves. On Friday, I promised Rosie a gingerbread man if she managed to fill the whole jar by Sunday.

She did! It should have been called the great marble giveaway – I was so determined she should meet her target so we could make the gingerbread, that I gave her marbles for almost anything.

Brushed her teeth without being told to? That’s one – no two – marbles. Shared a piece of fruit with mummy? That’s one marble. Tidying things away? Another two. Read her book all by herself and wrote a few words phonetically? That has to be five – yes five – marbles.

The largest number of marbles are accrued when the child, in this case, Rosie, dresses herself up without incident and zips up her fleece and coat. This would earn her six marbles, but she didn’t want them. She says she can’t help finding the underpants uncomfortable. She says she can’t zip up her coat or wear her fleece because they bother her.

Today the underpants, although pouffie, are just not right. For several minutes she weeps and says she doesn’t want to go to school. Ben is over and trying to help, but she is distraught. For once, she goes to me. It seems even Daddy isn’t quite good enough. I suspect no one can be when she is this stressed.

She puts on one pair of underpants, a pair of tights, then removes everything and starts again, this time with another pair of underpants. She does this at least five times, but we have a bus to catch. Again, she wails that she can’t go to school. Finally, Ben decides it’s enough and that she is getting dressed. We both help her put on her clothes (she’s back to wearing the first pair of underpants she’d put on in the first place). She is deeply distressed, but we still manage to get her out the door and down to school before the bell goes.

‘Tomorrow, you can’t do this again, do you understand?’ I say, calmly, while we are on the bus. She nods. But come tomorrow, will she remember?



11 thoughts on “Losing our marbles

  1. I love your writing. I love Rosie’s marble system with the coconut shell.
    I wish I could help you! My son was fussy about his “rumbly” socks, but I can assure you he’s fine now, at least about his socks (he’s 14). Does Rosie sleep in undies? I’m guessing not, but if she did, she could just put on fresh ones at night with no tights. Is it possibly the tights that makes her uncomfortable? Do you have Hanna Anderson where you live? They sell them online too. I’ve heard their organic cotton undies are good for sensitive kids. Good luck!

    • Hey thanks! Yes, I’ve tried all sorts of cotton undies, but she doesn’t like any, chiefly because she doesn’t like the idea of the elasticated leg – which you have to have on any pair of undies. She insists on wearing tights. I have tried to encourage her to wear trousers, but she is strictly a dress-wearer. : / And no, she doesn’t wear any undies to bed. She won’t wear any bottoms. Sigh.

      • I think my son’s issue ended by the time he was 5 or 6. When my middle one would only wear dresses and I was worried about her being cold, I got the Hanna Anderson striped play dresses with matching leggings. That’s all she wore for a year. Very comfy and cute and practical. Look on the HA site. Here’s a link to a conversation about undies for sensitive girls.
        And no, I don’t work for HA!

      • hey, thanks for this. I checked out the website and will see if those underpants are available in the UK, although the fact that they have a big bum might not be great – I keep thinking they won’t work under tights. Glad to hear your son’s trouble cleared up eventually!

  2. I think it’s time we started a marble jar. No physical outbursts here, but a lack of motivation perhaps? Our 5 year old will not brush her teeth, put toys/clothes away, get out of bed, take a shower, etc… without extreme procrastination almost always ending in a verbal struggle with one parent or the other (which is more often myself, as I am home more often). It’s frustrating when there is a schedule to keep. My husband thinks that she should just sit in her room until it is time to walk out the door for school… but wearing clothing, bathing, brushing teeth, etc. are not optional, in my opinion. Maybe some marbles for doing things without struggles would help! Thanks for your post.

    • Yes, marble jars are great – if your daughter gets excited by it. Start with a small jar and make it easy for her to collect the marbles. Otherwise, she’ll lose heart. And work out between you what her prize will be. I keep them simple – so, we get to make some gingerbread together (and eat it, of course), or, she gets to paint a rocketship with her dad (they’ve had this project for over a year – high time it gets finished!). I agree, dressing up, brushing teeth, and bathing are not optional. Has she explained why she won’t brush? And does she understand the consequences (yellow teeth, cavities, etc?) A bit of scaremongering never hurt. Good luck!

  3. I’m totally not a psychologist, -chiatrist or any -ist, but I do know that when my oldest son and a friends’ oldest daughter had a lot of stress in their lives (separately, and different issues), each of them felt completely out of control of the circumstances (both concerning a missing parent from their lives). So, they chose to control the only things they saw as within their control – she chose to eat only food that was yellow or white. Seriously – it was horrible, but she could control what she would eat. My son chose the not turning in homework route. We’d carefully go over each assignment every day, after I’d gotten the information confirmed with the teacher before he got home. We’d do each problem, carefully give him positive encouragement when he’d get one done without dallying. He’d go to school the next day, after checking to be sure he had it in his backpack. At the end of the day – teacher would email me that he didn’t do his homework.
    I wanted to bang my head against the wall or strangle him, neither of which I did.
    Basically each of them was doing what they felt they could to have some control in their lives.
    It doesn’t always make sense what children choose to use as their coping mechanisms. I guess I can say the same thing about adults!
    Please don’t fell badly about yourself or your mothering. We all do the best we can with what we know and what we have to deal with at the time.

    • Thanks, Wife Goes On. I think Rosie’s behaviour definitely stems from a need to be in control of something, particularly given her family situation (long periods without her dad, mum at work, etc). I also know she behaves this way because I can be overbearing. I’ve tried to pull back, but I’m not always successful. Still, the rewards system is paying some dividends. I’m going to persevere with that and see how far it takes us. Thanks for sharing. I hope your son has leapt that hurdle and is finally turning in his homework. How frustrating!

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