This blog is my place to vent and share resources with other parents of children of trauma. I try to be open and honest about my feelings in order to help others know they are not alone. Therapeutic parenting of adopted teenagers with RAD and other severe mental illnesses and issues (plus "neurotypical" teens) , is not easy, and there are time when I say what I feel... at the moment. We're all human!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Books and Methods Review - Methods - The Trust Jar

The Trust Jar

Created by Aspenhall at

This is a visual, concrete way to explain trust to a child.  The trust jar is a very visibly placed large vase filled with cotton balls, lima beans, anything not intrinsically appealing.   The vase should be mostly full, so if the child is 6 and the jar was less than half full, the child would get the life of a 3 yr old....constant supervision, no friends houses, or paints, or scissors etc... If the jar is near full the child has full rights to everything a 6 yr old can do....playdoh access, bike riding, friends’ houses, big kid books etc...

In order to "gain trust points/balls", the child must meet parent’s expectations. One point/ball per expectation met. If the child makes poor choices, they lose points...but not just one at a time. OH NO, trust is EASY to lose FAST, but very hard to gain back fast. Depending on the infraction, you may lose from 2 up to EVERY SINGLE BALL. The child never loses less than 2. Because trust is twice as hard to earn once lost. Trust points are not tied to the parent’s emotions unless the child is attached fairly well. (for example, "I'm disappointed with your behavior, and you now lose 3 trust points/balls.")

For EVERY SINGLE request, the trust jar Is “consulted” to see where the level is at. The response to any, "Can I..." privilege request is always, "I don't know.  Let’s go check the trust jar." 

The parent can buy items they think the child would enjoy, HOWEVER, it is up to the child to decide if she is trusted enough to receive the very cool items ( a 2 yr old cannot be trusted with a DVD etc..). They go up on the shelf next to the trust jar until, or unless, the jar is above half full, AND IF the child has not -lost- a SINGLE trust point that day...which includes all of bedtime...the item of the child’s choice is given ONLY the following day.

Marythemom:  We used a variation of the trust jar for a short time, to help my children understand in a visual concrete way why the amount of trust (and responsibilities and privileges) in the house are not fair (ex. the youngest child frequently got to spend the night at friend’s houses while the older children were usually denied).  

For children of trauma, things that happened in the past are always quickly “forgotten.”  Most schools and programs work with a “blank slate” philosophy that also fosters this.  We are trying to encourage the learning of concepts like restitution and accountability so we hold the child responsible for their actions and use their behavior to make decisions regarding responsibilities and privileges.  

My children were seeing this as me “holding a grudge” or loving another child more than them (because the other, usually younger, child had privileges based on their level of responsibility and trust rather than chronological age or that day’s behavior.  By removing trust beans from the child’s jar when they did something untrustworthy they could see that those beans did not automatically refill in the middle of the night, and kind of understood the concept of “earning and losing trust” a little better.  

We did not end up using this to determine level of privileges based on age like Aspenhall did. 

Love Jar - I also did a quick very visual demonstration of something I called Love Jars based on our trust jar experiment.  My kids seemed to think that love was finite, that you could love people to varying degrees (I loved the other kids MORE than I loved them), and that love of another took away love from them (if I loved Bob then I couldn't love Kitty).  

I took a vase and filled it about ¾ of the way full and told them that it represented the love I had for my adopted daughter the day she moved in, based on what I had read and heard about her, our weekend "getting to know you" meeting, and weekly phone calls before placement.  Then I talked about the events of the following days, weeks and months (both positive and negative!) adding a few beans for every event (whether positive or negative).  Obviously the jar was quickly over flowing.  I did the same for her brother (also adopted). 

Then I told the children that the jar represented one of my bio children on the day they were born.  I filled it full to the top.  Then started talking about events from my biodaughter’s life (positive and negative).  Obviously the jar was already full so beans went everywhere.  The events I chose to bring up were pretty funny (like the time she told me her little brother, “bit himself”… on the cheek!).  So this was just a silly demonstration of the fact that I have the capacity to love more than one person, what they do does not affect my love for them, and that I love them all truly, madly, deeply.

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