MOTHERHOOD

cubes for peace

P1010002

I know it couldn’t possibly be this simple and easy. It’s only been a week, but right now it is working.

We’ve been experiencing some typical sibling quarrels (that’s such a gentle word for it) and sibling competition around this house lately. I was getting pretty tired of hearing the mean voices all the time and the "I won. Me First" attitudes.

For example, when I bring in a drink of water to the girls at bedtime, each calls out, "me first!!" And if I happen to pass the glass to the other sibling, the one that is now having to wait a dehydrating twelve seconds for her drink of water, collapses into a heap of sorrow and torment on the bed.
I knew things were getting out of hand when I found myself carrying two cups of water in the room and doing my best to hand them off at the exact same moment.
Another example? The green cup, green bowl, green spoon issue. We have the set from IKEA that I’m sure most of you have. It comes in four different colors but for some reason each morning my children fight over the green. I don’t even think they know why they want the green ones, it’s just the fight that they like. It was to the point that the other morning when they started fighting over who got green, I walked over to the cupboard, pulled out the green cup, green bowl and green spoon and threw them all in the trash.
That’s one way to solve the problem, I suppose….

I’m usually not one to keep up with charts and graphs and reward systems when it comes to my children, but I decided to reach back into my elementary school teacher artillery and come up with a simple system.
I got myself a big bucket of non-interlocking centimeter cubes (they’ll come in handy for homeschooling, too) and an empty glass jar. In our family, the Bible is important to how we live and behave so we talked briefly about the "fruits of the Spirit"–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And when I see these behaviours of kindness they get to put a cube in the jar. When they reach 50 cubes, they’ll get to pick something out of my bag of treasures.

They were very enthusiastic and it started out quite comically. I heard about ten random, "I love you, my sister"’s every few minutes. And I gave them cubes because I figured it was a place to start and better than the alternative. And now, I think, this kindness is becoming a bit of a habit. Mary still asks for cubes because she ate a good breakfast, but she’s slowly getting the idea.
And I’m seeing it overflow into other parts of their lives besides just their relationship with each other–yesterday they picked up sticks and put them on the burn pile (not burning at the time) to be helpful to my grandmother, without anyone asking. And Emma has been finding little ways to be helpful and kind to me, too.

So the simple system is working at the moment. Who knows how long it will last. We’ve got 34 cubes right now and marching towards fifty, so we’re getting there.

But it’s not perfect. In the course of writing this post–which sometimes takes me hours to complete–the girls went for a morning walk together (awww, so nice). And Mary came back crying and soaking wet head to toe because Emma filled a bucket with water from the hose and threw it on her. (oh, not so nice) But hey, they’re still kids being kids. Every child needs a bucket of water thrown on them now and then….or something like that….and if this doesn’t work, I might be getting in on that action myself.

P1010002

I know it couldn’t possibly be this simple and easy. It’s only been a week, but right now it is working.

We’ve been experiencing some typical sibling quarrels (that’s such a gentle word for it) and sibling competition around this house lately. I was getting pretty tired of hearing the mean voices all the time and the "I won. Me First" attitudes.

For example, when I bring in a drink of water to the girls at bedtime, each calls out, "me first!!" And if I happen to pass the glass to the other sibling, the one that is now having to wait a dehydrating twelve seconds for her drink of water, collapses into a heap of sorrow and torment on the bed.
I knew things were getting out of hand when I found myself carrying two cups of water in the room and doing my best to hand them off at the exact same moment.
Another example? The green cup, green bowl, green spoon issue. We have the set from IKEA that I’m sure most of you have. It comes in four different colors but for some reason each morning my children fight over the green. I don’t even think they know why they want the green ones, it’s just the fight that they like. It was to the point that the other morning when they started fighting over who got green, I walked over to the cupboard, pulled out the green cup, green bowl and green spoon and threw them all in the trash.
That’s one way to solve the problem, I suppose….

I’m usually not one to keep up with charts and graphs and reward systems when it comes to my children, but I decided to reach back into my elementary school teacher artillery and come up with a simple system.
I got myself a big bucket of non-interlocking centimeter cubes (they’ll come in handy for homeschooling, too) and an empty glass jar. In our family, the Bible is important to how we live and behave so we talked briefly about the "fruits of the Spirit"–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And when I see these behaviours of kindness they get to put a cube in the jar. When they reach 50 cubes, they’ll get to pick something out of my bag of treasures.

They were very enthusiastic and it started out quite comically. I heard about ten random, "I love you, my sister"’s every few minutes. And I gave them cubes because I figured it was a place to start and better than the alternative. And now, I think, this kindness is becoming a bit of a habit. Mary still asks for cubes because she ate a good breakfast, but she’s slowly getting the idea.
And I’m seeing it overflow into other parts of their lives besides just their relationship with each other–yesterday they picked up sticks and put them on the burn pile (not burning at the time) to be helpful to my grandmother, without anyone asking. And Emma has been finding little ways to be helpful and kind to me, too.

So the simple system is working at the moment. Who knows how long it will last. We’ve got 34 cubes right now and marching towards fifty, so we’re getting there.

But it’s not perfect. In the course of writing this post–which sometimes takes me hours to complete–the girls went for a morning walk together (awww, so nice). And Mary came back crying and soaking wet head to toe because Emma filled a bucket with water from the hose and threw it on her. (oh, not so nice) But hey, they’re still kids being kids. Every child needs a bucket of water thrown on them now and then….or something like that….and if this doesn’t work, I might be getting in on that action myself.

30 comments on “cubes for peace”

  1. Oh goodness, your girls have been spying on my boys! We have that exact same nightly water battle! I’m so trying the cubes! My guys hear A LOT of Phillipians 2:3 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (often accompanied by much eye rolling :-)… but the bucket of water sould nice too!

  2. we just started something similar with my older 2, but with mason jars of flat-sided marbles i had on hand – the linking cubes are so much more colorful 🙂

    they may earn 5 per day for specific behaviors (kind to siblings? obedient to parents? respectful to others? do chores faithfully? good attitude toward schoolwork?) and after 50 they may pick a new book from Half Price Bookstore. so far it is a motivational dream come true…we shall see… best to you, as well!

  3. Amazing what timing you have in posting this. My twins (5) compete over almost everything…the green dishes thing, yes…which swing to swing on, yes…everything. I must put this into action today!

  4. We tried a similar “kindness jar” years ago (when my oldest was 4). I used M&Ms. At the end of the week, the winner was to give his jar to someone (else) as part of being kind. He gave it to his brother. And then, of course, wanted to be rewarded for it.

    It really worked though.

  5. Just a little word of encouragement for you… It will get better over time. I don’t have any little ones yet, but my sister and I were close in age growing up. We fought quite a bit at times, but even through those times we were great friends when it really came down to it. (Even if our mum didn’t feel like we were:)It sounds like you are doing a wonderful job raising them! I would bet that you will find the fighting decreases over time and they become closer the older they get. (My sister is my best friend, now I just wish we lived in the same city like when we were young.)

  6. I remember my sister and I used to fight over the “girl” towel…some towels my mom had (there were 2) that had little Holly Hobby looking girls on them. My mom made the rule that we couldn’t pull them out of the middle of the stack because we’d mess up all the folded towels to get them. I don’t know why we wanted it, we just did. Just so the other wouldn’t get it. Competition in a safe place like a family is good, but it can drive a momma crazy.

    We look to the Good Book, too. Their virtue of the month (given out at church) is service. I’ve surprised them with the Bottom Line of the Week twice. One said “treat others as JESUS would treat them.” The other, “Treat others better than you HAVE to.” I think it takes the “cliche” factor out of the golden rule and really makes them think.

    Anyway, I’m going on and on. Good luck with your girls. It’ll subside.

  7. this is such a lovely, gentle way to handle what I know are the really crazy moments of parenting sibling relationships (oh, do I know). Where to test out what reaction a bucket of water will get if not on your sister : )

    you’re a good, good mom… xo

  8. We had to do something akin to this with my sister. She has ADHD and ODD, so she need some behaviour mod just to keep her on track. I, as the older sibling, got tossed in because it’s easier that way. So, we had “Gardner Dollars.” Everything we were expected to do in a day earned a particular amount and if we did extras or were super nice or something, we got an amount at the end of the day for that. Then, there was a chart of activities and rewards that you could spend your “money” on. Better rewards required more saving of dollars.

    If we were naughty, we could get money taken away. But if we didn’t do our chores, we just didn’t get any and we got a talking to. I have now forgotten where I was going with this. 😀

    Good luck!

  9. I so understand the sibling rivallry thing.It drives me nuts.My 4 girls who are so kind and considerate to others turn into green eyed monsters with each other.I must find a system to work for us.I also must get the girls back into their Bible reading habits they have kind of slipped and it’s amazing how ‘The Word’ affects their thinking in such a simple unassuming way.

  10. We have a chore chart that also has a row for “offered help” and “showed kindness” — so I can check those off whenever I notice those. But I love the idea of a jar where all the kindness would end up in one pile — rather than individual charts. My rule on the checks I give is if they ask for one they won’t get one. It has to be given and not asked for. But they do start to look out for each other and the other day the oldest came to tell me how nice the girls were being to each other and could he put a check on their kindness chart. So maybe you could include cubes that the kids can put in when they notice the other one being especially kind or giving.

  11. I would so throw away those green dishes too. Or maybe they could be put back in your bag-o-treasures 🙂 I think the cubes are a really awesome idea, great job Molly!

  12. My poor mother… oh, my poor mother. My sister and I fought so fiercely, she had to count out each colour of jelly bean in our Easter Baskets to make sure we were exactly even… because… the first thing we did was tip over our baskets and count everything to make sure we weren’t cheated somehow.

    Sigh. LOL… yes, we were that selfish and ungrateful! If it’s any consolation, my mother survived, and my sister and I grew out of the evil behaviour.

  13. you are so right on with that ikea colored set – my parents have it for all the kids at their house and yes, there is almost ALWAYS a color conflict amongst the cousins. i love your kindness solution. glad it is working positively.

  14. good idea, I may try that. we are struggling a lot with E. being kind to our corgis and Miss Lucie. Oh, and I do a lot of that dramatic throw it in the trash thing.

  15. I am so copying you. We aren’t having the issue between siblings too much although Katrina does pick on her brother sometimes. We need to work on kindness and understanding of others. We had a discussion this morning about how Jesus asks us to be servants to one another. Maybe we can be servants with plastic cubes?

  16. Sounds like our house. I tried explaining the idea of Karma to Mark – if you do nice things for others, nice things will happen for you.

    Unfortunately he now taunts his brother saying “The Karma’s going to get you”. Not quite what I had in mind…

    Cubes seem much more straightforward.

  17. great post and ideas Molly.

    i am actually tempted to post rules in our household, much like a classroom. perhaps just five straightforward words that encompasses our family values…like if my son is being a sass to me, instead of talking AT him I would just say RESPECT and he would get the message. I have tried this over the last few days and it tends to calm him and send a message. I like using the “Fruits of the Spirit:…this something we say every week during our Liturgy and would be a great way for the kids to make connections.

    Thanks!

  18. The blue ikea cups are fought over in our house. Why??? Your idea is beautiful and we will be implementing it. I have tried a few systems, one is to encourage them to “dob” on each other but for good deeds instead. We talk about what love looks like and strive to instill those same fruits of the spirit…at times though, little ones just need something more tangible. Thanks for sharing.

  19. Yep, been there at the trash with the threat and actually threw it out as well. My mom felt she could help me with special spoons for the kids one day and went to a thrift store and picked up 6 spoons in various styles (flowers, swirls, etc…) and gave them as a little gift to the kids. Now they fight over the spoons…grrrr!

    I see you are reading the book, “Honey for the Child’s Heart”, how do you like it so far? I read this the first time from the library years ago and just couldn’t put it down so I bought one for myself to keep on my shelf. LOVE IT!!! I now pick one up for all new mommies as a baby gift with at least one book from the list from birth to 9 years…about 3 books really but for each different stage of reading. Always a big hit and no one else does this for newborns. I also include a handmade library tote I make for their library trips in the future that I like to encourage.

  20. Hi Molly, I love your blog and read it often. Though I’m not a mother yet I love spending time with my little sister and her magical universe (she’s 3 and i’m almost 30.. wow). Your words have been sooo inspiring more than once. Thank you!love,Franie

  21. I’ll be at the farm tomorrow night! Can’t wait to see you and the girls! Tell Elibibip that I fully expect to have her in my arms for hours at a time at/after dinner, heat or nor heat.

  22. With 4 kids and 1 newborn at home the sibling rivalry gets a bit extreme around here. I too take away toys that are battled over…sticks, broken pieces of water guns, marbles – ugh. I love the idea of the jar – we’ll have to try that here and encourage them to love each other and serve each other. It’s such a hard lesson to get through to them, but oh so important.

    Keep up the good work and the sense of humor – I think God gives mothers extra humor for those water bucket moments!

  23. We had to have “blue chips” when my daughter was five, same idea, rewards earned for being nice. She was just so mean to her little brother. Accentuating the positive eventually turned things around and they both lived to graduate from college and start their grown up lives. I LOVE your colored cubes but I would only want pink ones!

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