The power of M&Ms

We could start the day with 10 M&Ms rattling in a jar for each child, gleaming reds, blues, yellows, greens.  Each time I heard a nasty name fall from a pair of lips, the offender lost an M&M.

We could start the day with 10 M&Ms rattling in a jar for each child, gleaming reds, blues, yellows, greens. Each time I heard a nasty name fall from a pair of lips, the offender lost an M&M.

We’ve used M&M’s as kid currency before—they’re our potty training incentive of choice, as a matter of fact.  But never with such astonishing rapidity of results as this time.

The kids have gotten into a bad habit of calling each other names.  “Stupid” is a favorite, and “You poo poo” another popular choice.  Not very sophisticated yet, but I’m sure that’s around the corner.

I get why they want to do it.  Heck, I want to indulge in a bit of barbed verbage too from time to time.  But it’s not an endearing habit, and that’s what it had become—thoughtless arrows flung back and forth as a type of spiteful hackle-raising game.

Unfortunately, a parent has very little actual control of what comes out of a child’s mouth.  We can set consequences, that’s all.  And I was struggling to come up with something appropriate that I could muster the energy to maintain and which would cope with the dozens of transgressions per day that we were seeing.

That’s when I thought of M&Ms.  They’re small, yet tantalizing.  We could start the day with 10 M&Ms rattling in a jar for each child, gleaming reds, blues, yellows, greens.  Each time I heard a nasty name fall from a pair of lips, the offender lost an M&M.  I fully expected to eat 20 M&Ms that first day, and was struggling to figure out what I’d do in the likely event that Milo’s M&Ms were gone before lunch and he had no more incentive left.

But they surprised me.  Those little squirts seem to really care about those M&Ms!  The first morning Naomi lost two right off the bat.  Milo took notice, and managed to hang on to 8 of his until dinner time, and Naomi wasn’t far behind. I dolled out the prizes, praised the non-miscreants, and decided that deflation would start the next day.  Right now the price seems to be right at about 7 M&Ms/day.  For several days they have gotten nearly all their prize, and, at risk of diluting the results, I’m considering expanding the purview to all unkind acts, instead of just unkind words.

Of course, I’d really like them to understand that name-calling is bad because it tears the other person down, and they should aim to be kind to the people around them, build them up rather than belittle them.  But if parents don’t have much control over what their kids say, we have even less control over what they think.  Maybe the good habit will sink in to their core beliefs someday.

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3 thoughts on “The power of M&Ms

  1. We had a big bag of M&M’s as part of the snack at our small church group at our house just last Sunday. More than half of the bag was left over when everybody went home. Then on Tuesday evening I noticed that there were only about 7 left in the bag. Omi never calls me any bad names, and I wonder if that’s why she had eaten them all! I just didn’t know about the system, and I got very few.

    • Ooh, Omi can’t keep her hands off those M&M’s! I remember her stashing bags on M&Ms (or Snickers) up on a back kitchen shelf, either to hide them from us kids or from herself. Maybe it slowed down the consumption rate….

  2. What a brilliant idea! And the fact that it is so visual would increase the impact. I’m pondering now I can borrow this concept to enhance good behaviour…

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