In Everyday Life, Parenting

nytime we have company, I’m inevitably asked the same few questions…”What is THAT floating in the jar?” That would be a kombucha SCOBY…”Do you brew your own beer or something?” Nope, just grolsh bottles for second fermenting kombucha or kefir.…”What’s up with all the cotton balls?” Well…pull up a chair and we’ll explain.

These are our kids cotton ball jars (they really could have a better name). And these jars have been a pivotal tool in teaching our kiddos to be others focused. Here’s how…

The system is simple, and the rewards vary. Anytime we (the parents) catch them (the kiddos) doing something above and beyond, acting in a selfless way, giving preference to another over themselves or simply having a stellar attitude, they get to put a cotton ball in their jar.

The cotton balls are not rewards for their expected behavior. We have a chalk board full of what we call “Stuff Steffens Do”, and it hangs prominently on the wall for us to see and be mindful of. It’s these daily behaviors that are expected, but the above and beyond that receive the additional praise (or cotton ball).

Each child has their own quart-size jar. When their jar gets full, they get to choose something fun! Before we began, we all sat down and discussed some fun rewards and decided on activities like a family movie night, a date with mommy or daddy (in addition to their monthly one-on-one date), a fun outing like a hike, bike-ride or trip to one of our regions 43 mountain lakes for paddle boarding…but the real bonus is, if they all save up their full jars and cash them in together, they get to use it for something bigger! A few months back the kids had done just that and cashed in for a family (plus a few friends) trip to the bowling alley!

We recommend sitting down to discuss rewards as a family, this gets the kiddos excited and eager to begin! We also encourage letting them put their cotton balls in the jar themselves…there’s something magical about climbing up on a stool and plopping a cotton ball into a jar for all to see that keeps the excitement going!

Because these jars tend to take a few months to fill*, the motivation to be “caught doing good” can wane…for this reason it’s important for us parents to be extra diligent in encouraging the good we do see, meanwhile recognizing those times they could have earned a cotton ball had they chosen to take their eyes off themselves…

Bottom line? We are stewards of these little humans, these little balls of flesh. We have been given charge over training them up to be big people in the great big world someday. And our hope (read: desperate plea), is that they will be a valuable resource to whatever community of people they find themselves in. Being others focused, realizing that it truly is better to give than to receive, and that life does not, in fact, revolve around their navel…despite their constant desire for it to be so.

We hope this method resonates with some of you and helps your own kiddos grow in being others focused! One of the best parts about the cotton ball jars is when mommy or daddy get to share with one another at dinner, what an awesome job one of the kids did during the day, and how they earned a cotton ball! The look on their little faces as mommy and daddy share how proud we are is priceless (not to mention the public acknowledgement in front of their siblings!). It’s moments like this that the lessons sink deep, and the greater reward is found…knowing your parents are proud of you and your choices!

*We started this process using large cotton balls, resulting in their first round of of jars being filled within a matter of weeks. This was simply too quick, not only for our pocket books, but also for the true value being able to sink in and take root. Using smaller cotton balls usually results in full jars after 3-4 months of “others focused” rewards.

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