Lately my kids have been watching a lot of TV. I’ve been in the room most of the time, half listening, half thinking, reading, napping, take your pick.  About three minutes into the show the boys declare their affiliations.

I like that one. The one is the black shirt. I like the other one. Great debate ensues over shirt color.

Damon is faster than Stephan. He’s my favorite.

When finding comfort in an old alphabet book Oliver chooses between the 26 animals. That one- he points out Patricia the pig. The same choice he made as a 2 year old. Something about that pig appeals to him.

The reasons for allegiance remind me of the comfort I take flipping through catalogs. This table is like ones I have. That color would work in my study. I could be the kind of person that hosts brunches with those etched juice glasses. Soothing similarities, and future possibilities. I can relate.

This morning it sounded like this: “I like Super Why” no response. “I like Super Why”. no response. “Super Why is my guy.”  Super Why for those of you blissfully unaware is a character without any personality. His main feature is his football shaped head. He does have the distinction of being the narrator.  I guess that is enough for him to be the chosen one.

Leo explains it to me like this: I like certain characters because they can do certain things. I like super why because he has the power to read and he’s the leader.

OK then.  Guess that is more relevant than etched juice glasses.

Life imitates app imitates life.

So its the moment of truth.

My own personal shipping day. Marble Jar app is live, not for you, istore shopper, or you, beta tester. But for Oliver. Newly six, and totally tech-y he has switched his hockey night send off from “score a goal for me dada, to score a goal for the app.” (“Did you? I ask, half kidding)

I hand the cracked iPad over reminding myself not to say a word. There will be plenty of time for talk and collaboration, but this time it is for Oliver, and I want to see what he does.

Smooth silky blond hair falls right to his lashes. He concentrates on the screen.

Lets add a new jar he says. I swallow my instructions.

Edit Name he reads carefully. Tap. The type pad appears. T he sounds out. T T T. T-O-Y. Toy, He has built a toy jar. OK. So much for my sample environmentalism jar that I have been crowing over to the LA team. Where my kids conserve energy, whip out toolsets to fix leaky pipes, gently re-build birds nests while whistling.

Oliver is a real boy and he is building his toy jar. Add picture. Should I take a picture of a toy? We don’t have a picture of a toy on here…here is one where I look like a toy. I’ll use this one.

What should it take for me to get a toy? he asks out loud to his perpetual peanut gallery. “Sharing” Leo says, you should share the toys you have to get new toys.

OK says Oliver.

Sh- Sha- Share toys. He dials in a marble number. 10. I should share ten toys.

I’m starting to sweat a little. I’m beginning to compose my “point of the marble jar” speech.

“What else?” He taps his temple with his left pointer tip, knuckles crooked at a perfect 90 degree angle. The boys in my family all make this gesture, one that I imagined was only for exposition in fiction. Tap tap tap.

“oh- pick up toys.” He adds that as well, stopping to ask if it is a c, or a k that makes the k sound in pick, then answering himself. “K” 30 more marbles.

He looks at the jar. 40 marbles he reads out loud. “oh” that’s a lot.

I can’t keep quiet. I do try to stay matter of fact. Does that seem like a lot? Does it seem like thats what it would take to get a new toy? Sharing toys and picking up toys?

The boys both look up at me. Perhaps my tone wasn’t 100% matter of fact. Its possible.

Oliver lights up. I know! D. d. d. Mama? How do you spell donate?

I know something else that starts with a D.

Donate toys. 10 Marbles. 50 marbles total. How does that sound?  Leo answers him. “I think that sounds good…just don’t donate my favorite toys”

So there it is.

Some good stuff, and some room for improvement.

Top ten tips for using a marble jar

A friend has been using an old school marble jar to help appreciate the great things that are happening in her family. She wrote and asked me for my top ten tips using the jar. Here is what I whipped off to her. Hopefully some of you will have tips to add or clarifying questions.

1. Set up celebrations/ outcomes as a group.

2. Do your best to have celebrations be natural consequences of skills: dinner out for great table manners, sleepover for happy bedtimes etc

3. When giving a marble associate it with something physical- a hug, kiss, pat on back, high five

4. When giving a marble associate it with a skill or quality “Thats what I call collaboration”  “You really took a risk”

5. Model it yourself, give your partner marbles when they display a quality that is estimable.

6. Prepare what you are going to say to the “marble happy kid” I love that you are so excited about our jar…and we are going to save the marble giving for super special times, or when we are practicing something new, and stretching ourselves. There are just some things I do as your mom b/c they are expected…and I don’t need a marble every time. I’m going to kiss you anyways!

7. Have at least one jar going that is super small, with a celebration that you can get to in a day for a toddler, 2/3 days for a pre schooler, a week for an elementary schooler.

8. Marbles need to be given from one person to another- not alone, all family members buy into this. The recipient must accept it. (This gives you a chance to deliver the speech prepared in step 6)

9. It should be a SUPER rare occurrence that you remove a marble from the jar, and NEVER a threat.

10. Have fun!

Three ways I will use Marble Jar

I’m having a forest for trees moment with the marble jar app. I have been talking about it with marketing folks, parenting people, developers, etc. I feel as though I am so “in it” that I have lost the reason that “it” exists at all. Why will it help parents like me again?

Let me count three ways:

1. Thumbs Ups– Our family will pick something great. I am thinking a weekend at Burton Island, and a jar size. Lets say 250 marbles. Then we will notice and appreciate ways that we contribute to our family, treat one another well, challenge ourselves, etc. Simple.

Benefit: It helps remind us that a foundation of relationships is being there to celebrate successes.

2. Yes As Soon As– This will be the main function for us. These YASA jars will revolve around routines that already exist in our household. In the morning the boys want to play army guys. Steve and I want them to get ready to get out of the house so we are not tardy for school. The same things need to happen each morning:

  • Get dressed
  • Eat breakfast
  • Clear your plates
  • pack your snacks/lunch
  • prep your backpack
  • ask if anyone needs help with anything

AS SOON AS those responsibilities are done you can play. So instead of nagging and reminding we will set up this YASA jar with an army guy on the front. We will add the goals above. We will take pictures of the boys dressing, eating, etc to label the goals. Then our pre-reader can use it independently. Once the goals are completed they can play army guys. No nagging.

Benefit: Did I mention no nagging? I gets us out of the way for kids to do what they can do for themselves.

3. Working towards. This is similar to the YASA jar, but the routines are not established, and the goals will be a combination of general expectations, and skills we are training. For example the kids want to use my new iPad, they need to demonstrate the following skills centered around the idea that people are more important than technology , and the ability to respect personal property. We will be practicing over a period of 10 days (the marble jar app will add ten slots next to each goal)

  • Answer immediately when spoken to while watching TV or using wii
  • Turn off tech the first time asked
  • Ask if anyone in the family needs anything before turning on tech
  • charge their wii remotes and ipod touches
  • put toys back in their places in the common areas of our house
  • ask permission before using other people’s stuff

Once they have demonstrated this ability to 10 days they can use my iPad. If those skills slip away I will tell them that they are showing me that they no longer can use my iPad until we have refreshed the jar.

Which I will not have deleted.

Benefit: we have clear expectations around special privileges, it allows parents to be calm and consistent, and kids to work independently towards a special goal.

Problem Solving with Family Meeting

OK guys…

There is a reason I have a parenting expert working with me for Marble Jar.  This is a video of my family doing step three of our family meeting:Problem Solving.

Family meetings inspired by Parenting On Track are where we

  1. Appreciations: each family member shares something
  2. Contributions: we re-assign what jobs we will do to keep our household running smoothly
  3. Problem Solving (you can view first hand how well that will go below)
  4. Allowence

First some disclosures:

  • I don’t seem to be able to facilitate family meeting and hold the camera. Yikes
  • The tactic of parents giving really rotten solutions to inspire kids to offer great ones usually DOES work in our house. Not of course with the camera rolling.

Things I learned watching my kids and listening to myself:

  • Lots of extra talking from me…and not so much from the kids. More hmmms would probably lead to more solutions
  • Need to stretch out the brainstorming phase
  • They do seem to have internalized the “no name no blame” and “I have a problem when…” starting prompt
  • They didn’t have any major problems to solve this week. So that is a bright spot.
  • Problem Solving at Family Meeting

Cockpit Parenting

Christine Hassler’s article

Cockpit Parents: How they are driving 20 somethings into the ground.

in the Huffington Post confirmed my fears about the risks of overparenting.

We have all heard the term helicopter parents, and Christine has coined “cockpit” parents to describe those that do more than hover…but actually work the controls of the plane. Christine’s expertise comes with coaching and counseling 20somethings (often together with their parents), so she can speak directly to the risks of too much intervention.

Our kids are still young (5, 4 for one more week), so it is easy to hide behind actual physical safety as a rationale for intervening in all of our kids activities and choices. Use a sharp knife…not yet, climb those rocks…too high, pack your own lunch…not enough nutrition. It is easy to see how real risks (power tools) can slip slowly into areas that just need some training (using a sharp knife to prepare lunch.)

Our Marble Jar app is designed to start with an assumption of competence. Yes, you can sleep over at a friends house. As soon as you show us that you can respect your bedtime, brush your teeth, and take care of your things. Set a time for your kids to demonstrate that competence (and for you to train them if necessary…what does “respect your bedtime” look and sound like?)5 days in our house. Then you unlock the sleepover jar! YASA (yes as soon as) Woo hoo. We all celebrate.

Our boys (thanks to Parenting On Track) have already begun to develop a healthy relationship with money. They each receive their age in allowance each week. This money is NOT tied to household chores (those contributions are expected daily without compensation, it is simply part of being a family member) but rather to getting through family meeting. With their money they can buy what they want. Traditionally this features legos,or  star wars figures. It has also including donations to school, the food shelf, and each other. ( A worthy cause I guess.)

Spending, saving and giving are complicated life choices, and I really wish I had started practicing at age three. Without such training there are costs more than financial. Here Christine describes on example of a father son duo, whose mutual money entanglement has kept them both grounded.

Daniel, 29, and his father Peter came to me for coaching to work on cutting the purse strings. In our session, Peter confessed that he has realized how supporting Daniel financially has actually cost both of them: “All the while I thought I was helping Daniel by giving him the unconditional support I never got, but always wanted from my own father. Now I realize I have actually crippled my son and put us both in a situation that is hard for us to get out of.”

Like everything worthwhile stepping back, recognizing your kids’ competence and capability and seeing yourself as flight instructor (with a finite number of flying lessons) rather than co-pilot can be difficult for everyone. Christine’s conclusion:

Changing your parenting style may result in your child not liking you as much for a while, but remember that growing pains lead to growth. The job of a parent is not to be liked, but to empower children to learn how to like themselves. I can assert from both personal and professional experience that the 20-somethings who are able to financially and emotionally support themselves have increased levels of self-esteem, happiness and success in their life.

So that is our task parents. If your kids aren’t ready for something, instead of “no” ask each other how to say yes. What is the “as soon as” that will allow them to start practicing all of the skills necessary to fly on their own?

You are showing me you are not ready for hot chocolate

What exactly does being ready for hot chocolate look like?

Well, going against all best practices I can certainly tell you what it does NOT look like. It does not look like c3po taking a bath in it and splashing sticky overflow onto your grandma’s table. It does not look like shoving your mug in your brothers face while shrieking try mine try mine. Nor does it look like climbing under the table and tickling your brother’s bare feet and have him giggle and snarf chocolate all the way down.

My husband was at the grocery store and the eyes of his mother sister and brother were on me, as my boys’ choclate-y mess spread to the floor.

Deep breath.

Remove mugs.

Say in a matter of fact tone:

“You are showing me you are not ready for hot chocolate.” “You’ll get another try later once you are calmed down and the table is cleaned up.”

Now, at home my tone might have been a percentage or two above matter of fact. But with the extra six eyes I was neutral.

One boy ran shrieking out of the room. The other followed me to the kitchen sink screaming and crying “I want my hot chocolate now” “I can see that you do Leo, and you will get a chance to have your hot chocolate as soon as the table is cleaned and you are calm.”

Snivel. Shudder. Eye wipe. I hand him a towel. He swipes, then looks more closely and really cleans the chair, table top, and floor. Then sits.

So thats how it worked this time. I used a YASA (yes as soon as) I could have set up a jar on my phone if the app was running, but we’ve been practicing enough that telling him the steps worked this time. There will be a jar for sure for “playing wii” once I get to start alpha testing.

5 Ingredients to a happy snow day

Home for the second snow day in a row… Oliver suggested 4of these 5 activities. Guess which one I added to the recipe?

5. Technological Collaboration. (aka- star wars lego wii) 90% of day

4. Brownie snow. Take 5 heaping T of Lake Champlain Chocolate cocoa mix, dissolve in warm water. drizzle into large bowl of snow. Have younger brother stir and taste, then dump more chocolate liquid so you need more snow, then add more snow. Repeat.

3. Snow fort/cave/hoth site. Find nearest 5 foot snow drift (for us right outside our door) kick at bottom of it until you can crawl through. Pass shovel in to dad. Have him smooth opening.

2. Play school. Practice spelling wreds.

1. Empty the fridge lunch. Featuring grilled cheese,  apple, snap peas, french fries, chicken noodle soup, leftover ribs.

F*)&(ck the M&Ms – the danger of rewarding our kids

don't use m& ms for rewarding your kids
Save these for the trail mix.

What harm can come from a lollipop?

Vicki Hoefle cites these experts in her response.

Alfie Kohn says it succinctly in Punished by Rewards :

  • Promising goodies to children for good behavior can never produce anything more than temporary obedience. In fact, the more we use artificial inducements to motivate people, the more they lose interest in what we’re bribing them to do. Rewards turn play into work, and work into drudgery.


  • Rewards and punishments are just two sides of the same coin — and the coin doesn’t buy very much.

There is a lot of  additional scientific data that supports the idea that Praise and Rewards are dangerous.  Po Bronson’s Nurture Shock is a must read on this topic.

For the watchers here is a link to a brief ABC interview discussing Praise.
ABC video

And finally, here is a brief Interview with Alfie.  The basic premise for those who hate links:

Question: What’s the trouble with rewards?

Kohn: First let’s define the term. A reward is not just something nice or desired, it’s something nice or desired that is offered contingently when someone complies with our wishes or does something we like. If I give you a banana, that’s not a reward. If I give you a banana for having helped me around the house, that’s a reward. I have no objection to taking a kid out for ice cream, but I have a serious objection to saying, “If you are good this week, I’ll take you out for ice cream.”

Question: What is your objection?

Question:More than 70 studies have found that the more you reward people for doing something, the more they lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward. It’s not just that rewards are ineffective over the long haul; it’s that they are actively counterproductive.

whose psychology inspired Parenting on Track.

So here is where we come in.  If we understand that rewarding children comes with it’s own set of challenges and may in fact, be causing more trouble for our kids than we realize, the real question is this:

If not rewards, then what?

How do we highlight our children’s accomplishments, successes, and encourage more of them?  That is where we come in.  Teaching parents HOW to switch their focus, HOW to show appreciation, HOW to help their children develop awareness and HOW it can support the health of the entire family is what WE do.  We aren’t the science, we are the HOW.  We make it simple and we make it powerful.  We teach parents how to take a simple and often times overlooked moment in a child’s life and shine the light on the moment, take a snap shot of it, bring the child’s awareness to it, thus creating a context for the child to leverage this information and use it in other situations, to help them define WHO they want to be, not just WHAT they will do for a reward, and as a result an opportunity for the entire family to celebrate. In the Marble Jar app this will happen with the basic “bright spot” marble…which gives us a super simple way to record our fabulous moments even on the go.

Likewise, as parents, we know there are areas in our lives that could use some improvement.  What motivation do we have to change, to improve?  Very little unless we are negatively affected by our decisions and actions.  And children, certainly, have no way of holding us accountable.  So we are leveling the playing field.  We are saying “hey, I could use some improvement in my life in certain areas and I would like to be acknowledged when I change a response, or learn a new skill and I would like my change to benefit the entire family and for all of us to celebrate together. It is our hope that parents will use the Marble Jar app to build skills themselves. Perhaps your initial impetus will be to model its use, but we think you will find it holds you accountable too, for the expectations you have laid out for yourself and your spouse.

This is powerful stuff.

The Bright Spots

Yes that is a solar flare. Sort of belies the idea of the title of this post. In the vast universe that may in fact be a bright spot. Yet that image is one sort of mad bright explosion. So bright altogether that no one spot looks bright at all. To me it looks oddly womb-y. Which is good, because this post marks the beginning of my 3 month submersion into parenting. And by submersion I mean of course that the hours that I ostensibly spend away from parenting (software development hours) are now going to be all about….parenting. Yikes.

Wireframing of marble jar is done, and now I am spending lots of time thinking, reading and talking about the way we encourage our kids. Trying to distill it down to app form, and then cutting away features of the app until we have a minimal viable product.

At first that sounds like the opposite of what we want, right? I mean for a product fine, but a PARENTING product? minimal viable? NOT IT. It has been an incredibly useful exercise for me though. Distill it down. What is the core message. What functions so enrich our interactions that it fundamentally changes the way we view our kids, and ourselves. It comes down to the bright spots. Trust me, this is hard to see. I come from a glass is half empty place. It has necessitated a huge mental shift.

winwin’s newest app Marble jar is designed to help with this. Notice the good things, wipe away the “nos” and change them to “Sure, when…” Spend more time celebrating together. Start looking for those bright spots.