The Power of the Puffball

In most important aspects of our lives, we receive formal training. We need to learn to read and write? We go to school. We need to learn to drive? We go to drivers ed. We need a job? We get our degrees and have training. However, when it comes to parenting, there is no training required. Before my husband and I had our twin daughters, we went to a parenting class for the essential “How to keep the baby alive” kind of things and watched a few videos, but we honestly learned as we went! We listened to our moms and other experienced parents who had been there before and we did our best.  

Just as I felt like I was finally getting the hang of my new role as “mom”, my girls turned two and the tantrums started. They turned three and they started fighting. They turned four and they started talking back to us. I remember one day, looking at my husband and saying, “I have no idea what I’m doing.” We hadn’t planned that far ahead and we weren’t sure what discipline was going to look like for us. We did a little reading and did our best, but we realized that what we were doing wasn’t effective and we were in over our heads with meltdowns from our strong-willed girls.  

In come the puffballs. Well, puffballs and help from a counselor who was amazing at helping us develop strategies and a single method for dealing with behavior. (Note: if you’re struggling with your kiddo’s behavior, I highly recommend talking with a counselor or specialist. It was such a great decision for our family and we are all thriving because of it.) We ended up using “1-2-3 Magic” but I’ve also been trained in the “Nurtured Heart Approach” for work and we try to use a combination of the two.  

Ok, back to the puffballs. Something that both of the methods have in common is focusing on the positive and not giving energy or emotion to the negative. One thing that has really worked for us is giving our girls a puffball when we notice them making good choices. Here’s how it works:

  1. Each kid get an empty jar (or glass or whatever you want it to be!).
  2. Buy a BUNCH of puffballs. I get mine at the Dollar Store because they are cheap.
  3. Explain the rules to the kiddos: Every time you notice them making a good choice, they get a puffball. They pick up their shoes the first time you ask without complaining. PUFFBALL- as you say,”I really like what a good listener you were by picking up your shoes the first time I asked.” They share something with their brother or sister. PUFFBALL- as you say, “Wow, that was really generous of you to share, that shows kindness.” The puffball is important, but your words are even more important. Notice what they did and acknowledge it as a character trait. Try not to say you are a “good boy” or “ good girl”. Using this language is hard at first, but the more you do it, the easier and more natural it feels. These acknowledgements come from the “Nurtured Heart Approach” and I’d encourage you to check it out!  
  4. IMPORTANT rule: NEVER take puffballs away. When my girls do something that isn’t allowed or kind, they get breaks. I don’t engage emotionally, they just go take a break somewhere else. Have a strategy for the negative behaviors, whatever you choose for your family, but don’t take away puffballs. They are meant to be positive and encouraging. Give a lot of energy to the positives and the puffballs.
  5. Lastly, when the jar is full, they get a reward. Our rewards are never gifts or toys. Our girls get to have a special date with mom or dad where we spend quality time together, doing something they want to do! We’ve gone out for dinner, mini golfing, to get ice cream, to the park, etc. It’s really whatever they want to do!  The most important thing is that it’s about quality time and building our relationship.

Ok, so the power isn’t in the puffball, it’s in you noticing all the awesome things that your kid is already doing! It has changed my girls, but mostly it has changed ME! It has helped me focus on all of the positive things they do rather than the bad choices. I’d love to hear if you give it a shot and how it goes.


  1. I Love this! I have a 3.5 year old and 4 month old. Since the baby was born we’ve been trying to figure out how to discipline because nothing seems to work. Her world was totally rocked when the baby was born. I hope this works for us! My only issue would be my wording choices because I am so tired I stumble and have trouble figuring out how to phrase positive character traits. I need a cheat sheet to memorize!

    • Michelle, I’m sorry I’m just seeing this now. If you search The Nurtured Heart Approach, you should be able to find a cheat sheet for just what you’re looking for. Let me know if you need help!


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