As moms, we know the cycle.
A few moments of peace as you wash the dishes/change the load of laundry/talk to your sister on the phone, and then…
A loud outburst, followed by the quick patter of little feet who come running to Mommy with their version of the latest sibling squabble.
You sigh. Put on your stern but kind face, remind them of the rules, and send them on their way again.
And the cycle continues…
Two minutes of peace. Crash. Pitter patter. Sigh. Repeat.
When my two oldest children reached the age when they were just old enough to play out of my direct line of sight, but not out of my ear shot, we started the squabbling cycle. It seemed like we couldn’t last more than a few minutes without shouting or tears or conflict.
From the start, I’ve wanted my kids to develop a friendship and enjoy spending time together. I think we all do. But how could I motivate my kids to play happily together? To build their friendship even in these little years?
Enter the “Get-Along” jar.
I grabbed a small mason jar and all the loose change I could find from around the house. Then, I sat down with the kids for a heart-to-heart.
“This is the Get-Along Jar. It’s a special jar just for the two of you to use. When Mommy sees or hears you playing happily, solving problems, and treating one another with extra kindness, I’ll put some coins in the jar. At the end of the week, if there’s money in the jar, we’ll take your earnings to the store and you can pick out a special treat to share.”
With wide eyes and sincere little nods, my kids committed to the plan. Of course, at first there were a few insincere and showy “acts of kindness” performed directly in front of Mommy. While I praised them for the effort, I smiled sweetly, and told them that I would know when the time was right to earn some “Get Along” coins.
I loved putting coins in the jar at times when they least expected it. They snuggled up to look at a book together. Clink. Clink. They began to fight, but quickly came to a peaceful compromise without me. Clink. Clink.
The tinkle of coins hitting the bottom of the jar became a regular sound added to the hum of our household.
Without a doubt, I still had to stop and break up fights, teach conflict resolution, cuddle through tears, and walk little feet to the time-out spot – after all – that’s what moms are for. But, little by little, week after week, my children began to build upon their ability to play together.
At the end of that first week, we headed to the local grocery store and the kids chose a small container of gummy bears to share. That evening, my husband and I rolled out their sleeping bags, opened up their candy, and sat with our children as they enjoyed the hard-earned fruits of their labor. They smiled and giggled and glowed with pride as they devoured those gummy bears. And after a bedtime story, they dove into their sleeping bags for their first sibling sleepover.
We continued using the “Get Along” jar for a few months. Nearly every week they earned enough for a small reward. However, as time went on, the reward went far beyond gummy bears.
My children were motivated to practice the habits of patience and kindness with one another on a daily basis.
They built a habit of overlooking small annoyances and bearing with each other on bad days.
My kids made happy memories together.
They shared a sense of pride in their achievements.
And most of all, they built the foundation of a friendship that I pray will last a lifetime.
I don’t know if the Get-Along Jar is a perfect parenting technique. But I do know this – taking time as a mom to intentionally develop my kids’ friendship – even at a very young age, has been immeasurably worthwhile.
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