Encourage positive behavior with a few beans

One of the things I strive to do is to encourage my children in a positive way. Children thrive on even the simplest form of praise.

Good job!” “That was great!” “You’re getting better at that!”

In theory, it isn’t difficult to incorporate, but so often I find myself going through the day with more “No’s” than anything else.

There are obviously many times when my children need to be told to stop, or need to gently be reminded to change their spirits. But so often I focus on the negative, and fail to even notice when they’ve been doing something well.

When I read a passing reference to the family bean jar in the book Leadership Education several months ago, I immediately knew I wanted to try it. This wasn’t something complicated like a chart I needed to keep up with, nor was it expensive.

The basic idea is that Mom and Dad can tell a child to go put a bean in the jar for anything, at any time. It may be something like taking initiative to clean up without being asked, obeying right away, or something silly like picking a nice shirt to wear. Really. Anything goes.

We don’t always ask them to put a bean in for every single thing. We keep it fairly random. But I promise you, whether they’ve put one bean in or ten in the day, they are thrilled every single time.

When the jar is full we take the entire family on a small treat like a McDonalds ice cream cone, a special family picnic at the park, or something else entirely. The whole family works together to fill one jar.

Good for Mom

While I’ve seen lots of positive benefits for my kids, this has been most helpful for me. It has made me be aware of the dozens of times throughout the day that my kids take initiative, obey, help each other, or do something kind.

I always notice when they don’t take initiative, when they don’t obey, when they aren’t helpful, and when they aren’t kind. This has made me notice when they do. And when I notice, guess what? They really, really want to do it again!

Good for family teamwork

Since it is one jar for the entire family, no one is competing against each other. The kids know that when their sibling gets a bean it is actually helping them. It keeps this from being a competition, and it’s more of a family teamwork spirit.

It’s fun!

We just love it. The kids get super excited anytime they get a bean. They love to be recognized for something, and they also love when we just let them have a bean for something completely random and silly.

And we really have seen some positive results from it. When I give Stefan a bean in the morning for doing something kind to his sister, he keeps doing kind things.

A couple of Sunday mornings ago, Stefan voluntarily did several genuinely helpful things as we were getting ready to head out the door. Even in our busy, Sunday morning routine, Brian noticed that Stefan was really helping so he thanked him and told him to put a couple of beans in.

It’s not too surprising that Stefan kept finding more things to help with, and when he couldn’t find anything to do he came and asked if there was anything he could do! That’s a Sunday morning I’m really okay with!

A few helpful ideas should you want to try it:

  • Keep it random. At no point do you ever want to fall into feeling like you have to give beans out for every single thing.
  • Keep it light. Be silly and have fun with it. They laughed at a good joke. They put their own shoes on. They obeyed. You love them. Just keep it light and fun while still encouraging some of those important things you’d like to see more of!
  • Avoid giving beans to all the kids at the same time. At first. When we first started it was helpful to purposely give only one child a bean at a time. This helped drive in the concept that we are all working together, and just because one child gets one, another child doesn’t automatically get one. I could explain to them that it was still helping them to reach the overall goal. Now, they understand the concept that we’re working together so it’s no longer a big deal either way!
  • If you’re kids are young, start small. Our first time we started with a smaller jar because I wasn’t sure if Olivia was totally getting the concept. That meant that it didn’t take us quite as long to fill up the jar. Now we use a regular large jar for it, but everyone understands so it is working well!
  • Don’t let them ask. I promise you that it will take no time at all for a child to say, “Mom, did you see what I did, can I have a bean?” This is mom and dad initiated. If they ask, I applaud them for whatever action they did, and simply remind them that they can’t ask for a bean, but I’m still really happy for what they did!
  • Acknowledge what they did not do. Olivia is at a really whiny stage. I have found it to really help her when she asks for something in a sweet voice to say, “You didn’t whine, that was really nice, go put a bean in!” And she is at the age where she literally giggles, she’s so excited about it. It’s a simple way to bring attention to the right way rather than only focus on the wrong way.
  • Acknowledge accomplishments. If they are working on a particular skill and they finally get it, let them put a bunch of beans in! And the whole family can cheer them on!

This has been a really fun and easy way for our family to encourage each other positively. My kids are at a really good age for this, so it has worked really well. And we all love our little memory making family outing when the jar is full!

We have also found this helpful to use in habit training. I wanted to share this idea today as I will be posting next week about habits.  I am able to positively encourage them anytime they do whatever habit we are working on at the time. This is easier for me to keep up with than, say, a chart with stickers.

This has honestly been a huge encouragement to me as a mom. I’ve realized my kids really do do quite a few nice things! Sometimes I can get so trapped in my mind about the difficulty of teaching and training them that I fail to notice the progress. It may seem strange to say, but it has actually been a blessing to me.

It’s pretty amazing how a simple bean can turn a grumpy day around into a whole lot of smiling.

How do you encourage your children positively?

Linking to Better Mom Mondays


  1. We have a marble jar that we use in a similar way. I love all the thought you have put into this, though – you’ve given me some new ideas. Thanks!

  2. I’m still working through my philosophy on incentives/rewards, etc. but I *love* that this is, as you mentioned, good for mom and encourages family team work rather than competition! Filing this away :)

    • No worries, Naomi, so am I! It’s probably an ongoing thing. :)
      If it helps any in your thinking it through, we don’t use it as bribery (as in in the middle of a situation, “if you do/don’t do this you can have a bean). It’s more of noticing when they make the right choice or do something kind of their own initiative.
      And, yes, super encouraging for me, because there are plenty of days when I feel like the teaching and training is not taking root!

  3. Absolutely fantastic, Johanna! I LOVE this! Oh, how I remember the days I was the “wicked witch” always saying no or chiding the kids. Discipline is steering children in the right direction, and this is a really great way to do it. I like the visible thing, the teamwork aspect, and the “you-can’t-get-a-bean-if-you-ask-for-it” idea. All excellent! ¡Ánimo y adelante!

  4. My mom took dark blue construction paper and pasted a white circle on it to represent the moon. I got a gold star every time I went to the potty.

    Yes. You read that correctly. It was for my potty training. That was more than FORTY-FIVE years ago and I still remember getting those gold stars. I think people underestimate the value of small motivators.

  5. Love this idea and think I’ll keep it in mind for down the road! It’s much simpler than putting stickers on a chart multiple times a day. :) One of my kids would do perfectly fine without the sticker chart that we use (for habit training) but another child really benefits from the “put-a-sticker-on-the-chart *every time* you do ___” routine when we’re learning a new habit. Even though it’s mentally exhausting for me, the constant reminders “Mommy, we need to put another sticker on the chart…” just means my little ones are thinking about our current habit and their completion of it throughout the day. :)

    I know your use of the jar wasn’t for habit training but I’m thinking once we’re a little further into habit training the bean jar might be a good way to wean my kids of the need for “gold stars” – keeping them mindful of their behavior (especially their successes!) but not expecting recognition/reward every time.

    • I actually do use it for habits (which is why I wanted to get it up now before Friday’s post)! The can see stickers/chart still being good for a habit like making your bed when you want to see a specific thing done daily. But for character habits, this works better as I can acknowledge when I see them being kind, grateful, helpful, etc…

  6. Normally I’m against killing but this article slaughtered my ignorance.


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