The Love Jar

Confession: I suck at consequences.

While I may suck at consequences, there’s one parenting tip I’ve implemented with great success for over 10 years: the Love Jar.

The concept is simple. Whenever I observe my kids making a good choice like treating each other with love and respect or stepping up to help without being asked or applying themselves well to the tasks at hand…I praise them openly and enthusiastically and reward their efforts by giving them a quarter for the love jar.

I mean, really, who can think of an appropriate response to ALLLLL the antics our kids come up with? (Be honest now.)

I believe in calling out the best in others. We all have our challenges. We all have our hurdles to overcome. The world’s a tough enough place for us as adults; can you imagine how much more so for our kids? Especially these days.

Enter the Love Jar.

It’s on the counter where everyone can see it fill up and be visually reminded that in our family, as in life, collaboration, respect, and hard work are rewarded.

And here’s the really fun part. When the Love Jar gets full, they get to choose how to spend it. The only parameter is that they all decide together. I can’t tell you how happy it’s made my heart to watch my kids carry their baggies of quarters just beaming with pride to treat themselves to a movie matinee, triple scoops of ice cream, a stop by the donut shop on the way to school, or a pizza movie night picnic in the living room.

It doesn’t just stop with my kids. There have been many times when friends or cousins have visited where I’ve boldly announced, “Quarter in the Love Jar!” as they work or play cooperatively, pick up another’s plate after a meal, offer to fill their juice cup, or even simply compliment each other on a job well done. There have even been times when my kids have put a quarter in the Love Jar for something I’ve done. Go mom!

A friend once gave me a magnet that said, “A good mom has messy floors and happy children.” My kids’ floors are messy. (Almost impossible to find actually.) And if I had a dollar for every time I have to remind them to take out the trash or empty the dishwasher, I’d be very rich indeed.

I may suck at consequences, but my kids are thriving. They’re almost grown now and the Love Jar is still in full view on the counter, filling up with every encouraging word, helpful hand, and random act of kindness. Just the other day I heard them talking about what they want to do next with “their” money.

Discipline is important. Setting healthy boundaries and enforcing natural consequences are necessary parts of raising responsible future adults. And so is fostering a home environment with compassion, cooperation, and fun—where kids are safe to try and fail and try again and (hopefully, but not always) get it right the next time. If I have to be better at one than the other, then I vote for the latter.

Let’s be our kid’s biggest fans. Let’s make those mindless moments meaningful by looking for—and finding—the good and the beautiful in the whirlwind and the mess of life with kids.

Alisa Hauser
Alisa’s 15 minutes of fame was as a news reporter just after college. These days, she embraces multiple roles – a mom of three (two teenagers and one who is #adulting), a graduate student at UT Dallas Jindal School of Management, and a freelance writer, editor, and tutor. When she’s not hiding out in the library, you can find her next to a chiminea fire on her back patio. She loves indie movies, eclectic music, random road trips, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, her kids, and her cat Jack Jack (although not necessarily in that order). She grew up as a military brat, residing in four countries and eleven states before settling in the Dallas area. After 20 years here, and with the help of her Aggie daughter, she can seamlessly use “y’all” and “howdy” in a sentence like a true native Texan.