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The Tantrum and the Marbles

little boy cryingIf you have ever raised a toddler, you well know that weird feeling that your kid just might be the one in control of your household. Right before our daughter turned three, this very situation was coming to a head in our home: moods turning on a dime, full-body tantrums, and an endless chorus of “no!” Then one day, it exploded…at Sesame Street Live.

This was the first time the show had come to Reno, and we thought she would love it. She first saw the live Yo Gabba Gabba show when she was 18 months, and was spellbound. We figured now that she was older, she’d enjoy a live show even more – especially since she’s really been getting into Elmo and Zoey. To put the icing on the cake, we were going to the show with her favorite friend Grant and his family. This had all the makings of a fantastic family outing.

We arrived and found our seats, and before long, the show was underway. Our kid seemed into it, for the most part – but she had a hard time getting settled. I don’t wanna sit in my seat, I not sitting booty down, no mommy, my popcorn, I sit with popcorn, not daddy, no mommy I sit with daddy, daddy let me sit on you. I was tired already, and the music was really grating. Intermission came, and our daughter launched her meltdown. She wanted to run all over the concrete steps, she screamed for a balloon, she knocked over the garbage from our snacks – typical toddler stuff, but we hadn’t yet realized that she was past the point of no return. That fact would hit me out in the concession area. I carried her out there to try to calm down and gather herself; she responded with going limp and rolling towards confused children walking by nicely with their parents (the parents were all on my side, I’m happy to say! Not one of them made this moment worse for me).

Grant’s mom comes out to check on us, and I ask her to send my husband – we’re done. And what follows is the world’s longest walk out to the UNR parking garage, me holding a very angry almost-three-year-old football style, with McHubs at my side carrying all our items. We put her in the car and took a minute to huddle: this was officially not working anymore. Beyond the terrible behavior, we were also mad at the money and precious weekend time we had spent.

I had heard about the marble jar concept for rewarding good behavior, and we decided to give it a go. The gist is, you get a glass jar and a bunch of marbles. Every time you “catch” your child with good behavior, they are rewarded with a marble for their jar. Marbles can also be removed for naughty behavior. You discuss with your kids what they’d like to earn as a reward when their jars are full, and they work towards that. It sounded to us like it could be effective for our daughter’s personality.

Do you know how hard it is to find marbles in this town?! And with small dogs in our home in addition to a toddler, we thought it might not be best to have a bunch of those around. So, to set this up, I went with colorful rubber pencil erasers from The Dollar Store. For our container, we’re using the smallest Snapware container we have. It’s important to us that her goal be attainable, and that she can achieve it for the first time fairly quickly, so that we are further reinforcing this discipline method. For our kid, she quickly identified a trip to Chuck E. Cheese as her reward. Her “jar” sits at the edge of a table in our entryway, and that helps keep it top-of-mind for all of us.


So how’s it going? As you can see, it’s nearly full – good job, kiddo! It’s been so much fun (and re-energizing) for us as parents to look for that good behavior, and of course, it does outweigh the times that the other stuff arises. And she gets a lot of pride out of being able to pick out an eraser and place it in the jar.

But that pride is so fleeting – maybe because there is no tangible reminder of her accomplishment. It’s a far bigger deal when we remove an eraser or two than when we put one in, so it could be that three is too young for this technique. It’s still hard at this age to conceptualize and anticipate an event next week, let alone something someday at an unspecified time.

In addition to that, I wouldn’t say it’s curbed the “no’s” at all. We’re still getting plenty of that – frankly, at this point, it’s her default response, even if the question is, “Do you want some mac ‘n cheese?” What it has done, though, is helped her take a second to consider the consequences before launching into a full tantrum. Sometimes she backs off,  sometimes it’s too late and she throws a fit, anyway. Such is the life of a toddler.

Have you tried the marble jar? Did it work for your family? What other tricks do you have up your sleeve when the terrible twos and threes hit? 


About Annie McFarland

Annie McFarland
Happily married to her former neighbor, Annie is mom to three kids age four and under. She (mostly) balances life at home with working full-time in brand and media licensing. Off the clock, you can find Annie on the couch with her nose in a book (or pressed up against the Kindle), thinking about maybe doing some scrapbooking, or listening to NPR podcasts (she's what you call "indoorsy"). If it's football season, she will faithfully support her Southern husband by cheering on the Auburn Tigers and Atlanta Falcons.

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