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!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Trust jar

The following is Aspenhall's description of the trust jar.

The trust jar is an large old random vase (from my dating years) filled with cotton balls (pink balls). It is placed on top of a bookshelf in the main living area of our home and visible from many places in my home. For each age you are, I expect the jar to be mostly full no matter the if you were 6 and the jar was less than half full, you would only get the life of a 3 yr old....constant supervision, no friends houses, or paints, or scissors etc... If the jar is near full you have full rights to everything a 6 yr old can do....playdough access, bike riding, friends houses, big kid books etc...

In order to "gain trust points/balls", you must meet my expectations. One point/ball per expectation met. If you make poor choices, you 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 2 up to EVERY SINGLE BALL. I never take less than 2. Because trust is twice as hard to earn once lost. I never tie the trust points to MY emotions unless my dd is attached fairly well. (for example, "I'm dissappointed with your behavior, and you now lose 3 trust points/balls.")

For EVERY SINGLE request, I consult the trust jar to see where the level is at. My basic response to any "can I..." priviledge request is always "I don't know, lets go check the trust jar". She is learning to build up her points, after a few bad days, before even asking me.

Now a child of mine, is a child who gets things randomly as I see deals or specials or things I think they'd enjoy. HOWEVER, it is up to my daughter to decide if she is trusted enough to receive the very cool things I buy her ( 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 she has not -lost- a SINGLE trust point that day...which includes all of bedtime...the item of her choice is given ONLY the following day.

Some of the items include toys she has been grounded from, as well as books, DVD's, horse related items, etc....

On the items she has been grounded from, I may decide I no longer care to store them and I will be selling them on ebay for cash, OR she has the option of buying them back from me. 1 chore per toy is the price.

All in all it helps me see her good behavior (as she is quick to remind me she's doing well) and it helps illustrate the idea of trust VERY WELL. We started this awhile ago and she responded well, both when she had attachment/selfish issues, and also now. The jar takes all responsibility off of my shoulders and puts it squarely on hers. I don't make the choice of whether or not she may go to a friends house, SHE does, by the choices she makes. And it's futile to argue with a JAR.

As a special bonus, I have agreed to buy my child a HORSE......if she can keep the trust jar full (or near full) for an entire year.

The cotton balls were chosen, because anything cool would have been to tempting to take down and play with....also they're cheap. Also, points may NOT be earned by patronizing me...extras do not earn you points (such as rubbing my shoulders) only a happy attitude and trying your best will earn you trust. If you drag your feet and I have to remind you multiple times to hurry or keep going or stop playing around, you no longer get a trust point for that thing even if you complete the task I have asked you to do. I expect to have to remind a 7 yr old once to finish a 30 min chore. I expect a school age child to arrive home from school at a certain time (15 min allowed for only a 5 min walk home).

I expect the same to do as they're told, WHEN they're told. 2-3 points are given when you do the task before I even have to ask (brush teeth, put dish into dishwasher, start your chore, do your homework...etc...)

I try to keep my expectations reasonable, and I penalize HEAVILY for intentional deceit such as lying or leading me to believe a lie, or ANY sneaky behavior. I also never confront her about the obvious lie, I just remove the points. Plus, I base whether or not I trust your story on the trust jar! Even if I'm sure it's true, I'm not allowed to believe her if she doesn't show any trustworthiness (in evidence by the jar). My common response to her choices, nowadays, is "Oh, I'm sorry you chose to do that, because I know how hard it is to earn trust back, once it's lost". It took many weeks of being treated as a 2 yr old, for her to catch on. As it began I was a bit lenient because I wanted her to establish good habits quickly and without too much work. Over time, I adjusted my expectations slowly to the level she is at now. It hardly ever occurs to her to fight me when I ask her to do something...she nearly NEVER whines at her chores, or small requests such as put your shoes away. AND more than that, she is quick about it. I smile and Thank her as I put a trust point in....immediate consequences for good as well as poor choices. She hasn't needed a time out in months.

Because my children are substantially older than Aspenhall's I asked her some questions.

Re: Trust jar question

Would this work for a 15 year old teenage boy?

I think it could work......the "trust points" are earned for meeting realistic expectations, so for example a 7 yr old would earn trust points differently and a bit easier than a teenager. If he does everything you ask when you ask without whining, he would get a trust point. Or if he does it without being asked he would get one. If he lies, or intentionally decieves the jar gets emptied. So really, how long it takes is totally up to him. Sneaky acts lose trust.
Line of Sight supervision stops at around age 5-6, so the jar would need to be 1/3 full before that stops...But once it stops, he can either lose points or earn them....the point being that HE is in charge of how quickly and fully he gets his own actions/words.

How many cotton balls are typically in a jar?

I think the jar size could stay the same for any age child, and the amount can be the same as well. But a 5 yr olds responsibilities are different than a 9 yr olds, so they could earn them at the same rate, but a 15 has MORE opportunities to LOSE trust, where a 9 yr old has a bit less...because the perks of being trusted at 9 are less than being trusted at 15. A 15 yr old NEEDS the trust more than a 6 yr old I would think the impulse to earn trust would be greater as the stakes are higher. Think of the level of balls in the jar as a percentage of trust. All kids screw up, so the expectation isn't to get the jar FULL, that gets you extras....beyond your years....I try to help dd aim for near full. No one is perfect and it isn't expected. She's gonna lie and possibly empty the jar, but to come to me voluntarily and tell me it was a lie, and "make it up to me" will let her earn back points immediately. So yes, the level dropped to zero, but within seconds it was building up again as she took responsibility for her actions.

My son has RAD, bipolar, ADD, PTSD, cerebral dysrythmia... do you think this will work for kids who may not understand consequences? (I linked this to my blog about him choosing to bring a "gun" to school.)

I think that trustworthy actions can be made if the desire is strong enough, even if they don't call it being trustworthy.....but since it is easy to lose trust and very hard to earn back, it establishes a good habit of checking your choices....if he cannot process action/consequences like with some FAS/FAE children it would be much harder.... So no I think almost anyone can learn to be just have to find a way to make it matter to them. They may not care if being untrustworthy makes someone feel bad, but they would care if being untrustworthy affect their level of priviledges. I think for some people empathy may never develop. But the visual thermometer helps them pay attention to the effects of their choices. Like checking the weather to see what you'll need to wear, you check the jar to see what tools are needed to live without stressing. If he really wants to get above zero he'd have to show he was trustworthy consecutively for quite a awhile, because when you lose points you lose fairly big amounts at a time, and when you earn them back it takes awhile because you only earn them back one at a time... His good choices will have to be at least triple the amount of his bad ones to build up the jar...

Do you mind if I post this on my blog?
I don't mind you giving me credit or using it on your own blog which I may discuss the trust jar concept on can be found at


So now I have to work on my list of expectations for kids, and then I think this weekend I will be able to introduce the concept of the Trust Jar. I'm actually really excited by this idea, because Bob has started lying and being untrustworthy and I need her to understand that her actions have consequences. Plus, I think Bear will really benefit from such a visual reminder of why I don't trust him. I really want Grandma (our after-school provider) to be involved in this. I feel the kids are not benefitting from what appears to them to be her uninvolvement with their consequences. I also don't want her to have to feel she is "tattling" - this way she can handle it herself without having to commit us to the FAIR Club.

Yesterday, Bob was feeling poorly. She spent all evening, the time I was home anyway, laying on the couch - she didn't even eat dinner. However, she told Grandma that she'd done her chore for the day - cleaning the bathroom. This was blatantly untrue! Since I now apparently have her stomach bug, I feel total sympathy for not doing her chores. Lying about it on the other hand - is huge! I wish the Trust Jar was already in place!

Nauseously yours,

1 comment:

e g said...

It just is more work for me.