Praise plates, character and love languages

We occasionally use reward systems to boost the tone of interaction between siblings and reinforce good character. While our marble jar and treasure tree were an enjoyable way to focus on building positive family identity, they do come with a reward and as such I do not always use them. I do not want the children to get the impression (however subtle) that it is only worth displaying good character if there is something in it for them.

We have just reinstated our praise plate system which we have used and loved in the past. The children have in fact asked for it more than once. It is very simple to set up. Each family member uses one and a half paper plates to make and decorate a pocket (see photo above) using art and craft materials. A bunch of paper slips are cut up and left handy with some coloured pens and we are ready to go. Whenever I or one of the children notice another family member displaying positive character in any way, they write it down on a slip and pop it into that person’s praise plate.

The focus is on character rather than physical attributes and they are not allowed to write them for themselves or point out their own sterling qualities! Some examples are: G showed hospitality today when she greeted Mrs Smith with a lovely welcoming smile and hello. B showed kindness today when he tied his brother’s shoe laces for him. C was very helpful to Mummy and served our family by preparing a delicious salad for lunch. S showed initiative by putting away her ironing before she was asked to do it. The possibilities are endless and the children get better at writing their own as they hear more and more examples.

Older children write their comment and the younger children draw a picture and dictate their praise comment to be written underneath.

Occasionally when there are a few minutes spare before dinner or at an opportune time, all the children are instructed to sit down and complete at least one slip for every other person in the family. This insures nobody is left out and gives me a wonderful way to use those spare moments before a meal is served. My husband and I also take the time to write out several slips for each child and each other and slip them in the praise plates.

This great character chart helps us think of different qualities we want to commend and recognise and prompts us as we think of what we can write. Catching our children doing the right thing is such an encouragement to them.

On Sundays after lunch we stay at the table together and read each person’s praise slips out loud for all to appreciate. This is a wonderful way to fill love tanks and particularly speaks to those children who have words of affirmation as their primary or secondary love language. If you have never come across the idea of love languages, I strongly suggest reading Gary Chapman’s book “The 5 Love Languages.” The 5 Love Languages website is also helpful, with diagnostic tests to determine the love language or your children, spouse or yourself. If you are someone who finds it difficult to speak encouraging words consistently, or tend to be critical with your words, this is an excellent way of ensuring that those ‘building up’ words are heard by your children.

Other posts you may find helpful:

Sizzlers and grace

Spoiled walls – bickering and sibling conflict

Sibling relationships

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Our treasure tree reward system

Character development is an ongoing focus in our house. We finished with the marble jar reward system several months ago now and the children have been asking for a while for a return to our praise plates (more on them another day.) Rather than go back to something we have already used, I decided to introduce a “treasure tree” which linked in very nicely with our reading of “The Treasure Tree” by John Trent.

Our treasure tree reward system.

The system is very simple. When the children demonstrate positive character traits they are given a leaf to stick onto the tree. Character qualities like unselfishness, kindness, generosity and the like are promoted and reinforced throughout the day. Flowers are given when all the children have displayed Godly character together. A great chart of character qualities including a definition and the opposite negative quality is available here.

All you need is a painted tree, a bunch of paper leaves, paper flowers and sticky dots or a glue stick to stick them on with. The dots allow us to keep track of how many leaves need to be earned to reach our family reward – once the dots are all used, the tree is full.

You may like to tie it in with scripture memory work and focus on bible verses relating to treasure such as Proverbs 7:1, Proverbs 15:6, Matthew 6:21 and Luke 6:45

For a full explanation of the difference between bribes, rewards and goal incentives please see my post on marble jars. We don’t always have a reward system operating, but we do use them every now and then when the tone of the household is becoming negative and the children are beginning to bicker.

Rewarding right behaviour is not enough though, we need to spend time teaching what Godly character looks like in action. We use bible study, good books, songs and discussions during morning circle time and discuss how we can display these qualities throughout the day. It’s one thing to talk about serving, showing kindness and loving others, it’s another thing to practice it!

The Treasure Tree

“The Treasure Tree” by John Trent is an introduction to the 4 personality types for children. It uses the 4 main characters of a lion (choleric), beaver (melancholic), golden retriever (phlegmatic) and otter (sanguine) to tell the story. The animals have to work together to overcome some obstacles and find the golden keys to reach their destination of the treasure tree.

The personality types are woven into the way the animals approach each situation and can begin to give your children an insight into why they each behave differently and help them to understand each other and get along a little bit better.

While no means a detailed overview of the personalities, it does provide a great springboard for discussion and helped us to lead into identifying personality and character strengths and weakness that each child needs to be aware of and work on.

The children loved it and asked for the next chapter every day, even though we were only reading from it once a week! I’m looking for something a little more meaty to go on with, but I would recommend this story as an enjoyable read-aloud and worthwhile discussion starter.

Other posts you might like:

The marble jar is full!

342 regular marbles and 36 tom-bowlers have been earned and the marble jar is finally full. Our marble jar has been going for about 3 months (it’s bigger than it looks!) and has helped to change the unkind tone that had been developing around here. We put it in place as a reward system for kind and unselfish behaviour. Whenever a child displayed the kind of behaviour we wanted to promote and was noticed by a parent or sibling doing so, the behaviour was rewarded with a marble in the marble jar. Particularly outstanding acts of kindness received tom-bowlers. When the marble jar was full, a whole family reward is given.

Before I continue; a quick aside. There is a difference between bribes, rewards and goal incentives. A bribe is offered BEFORE a BEHAVIOUR is demonstrated and is used to “buy” the child’s cooperation and display of the behaviour you are bribing them to get. A reward is given AFTER a BEHAVIOUR is displayed and is not previously discussed – it comes as a pleasant surprise to the child after the fact. A goal incentive is offered BEFORE a SKILL is mastered (not for behaviours) and is received by the child after they have mastered the particular skill.

Here is an example of each:

“If you are good in the shops today, Mummy will buy you a lollipop.” (Bribe)

“You showed such diligence earlier today when you helped Mummy clean out the pantry; let’s go and have a treat.” (Reward)

“When you learn all of your catechism questions, Mummy and Daddy are going to buy you a new bible.” (Goal incentive.)

Obviously bribing our children to get the behaviour we want from them is not a helpful parenting strategy and will not improve a child’s character. It does in fact promote a selfish attitude and teaches the child that it is only worth displaying good character when the bribe is big enough. Practically speaking, they are difficult to maintain because the bribe the child expects will generally need to get bigger and bigger to keep their cooperation.

Now, back to marble jars. These operate as a reward for kind behaviour that has already been displayed. The child who is acting in a kind way is not allowed to report their own good behaviour, it must be noticed by others. Obviously to begin with, while the marbles are very fresh in their mind, there is a lot of kind behaviour that is happening only for the promised reward. Because of that, it does in some ways operate as a bribe for a couple of days. It isn’t long however before the initial interest wears off and the marbles are forgotten about. It is then that the true reward part of the system kicks in as behaviours that are naturally being shown without thought of reward are reinforced with the nice surprise of a marble.

One of the biggest challenges when trying to change the “tone” of sibling interaction is to get it lifted out of the negative and niggling mode it has sunk into and into a positive and building-up tone where we want it. Once the positive tone is reached, it is a lot easier to keep it there. The marble jar gives a quick method of changing the tone (yes, in a “fake” sort of way for the first little while) but once lifted, it can be kept there and become a more natural expression of “how we treat each other in this family.”

Oh, in case you were wondering, the reward was a trip to Sizzlers for dinner. It was thoroughly enjoyed and the children have now been introduced to the joys of the ‘all you can eat’ dessert bar and never ending drink refills!