I knew when we had three kids in three years that we were going to have to get them involved in the household upkeep as soon as possible. So for about five years, I stifled my OCD tendencies, and trained them in how to unload the dishwasher, do laundry, and generally just clean up after themselves.
And while they were young, the only incentive they needed was the verbal praise I lavished on them. Then they got older and Mom’s appreciation just wasn’t enough to make them want to put away the silverware AGAIN. The squabbling began, too, as they started to keep mental score of who did what, when, and for how long. Clearly, we had to find a more systematic way to motivate the kids to do their share for the family.
Over the years, I’ve tried lots of chore systems. LOTS. And only a few have lasted more than a week or two. The ones that had staying power are listed below. I hope you find these as helpful as our family did!
This is a system in which each child has their daily chores listed on cards that are then kept on their own pegboard. You decide which chores are to be done in the morning, afternoon, evening, and bedtime, and then color-code the cards according to the time of day they’re to be done. This is a great system for kids who can’t yet read, because each card has pictures in addition to words. The kids move the chores to the second peg as they’re completed and the completion of chores earns them tickets that are good for TV time, computer time, snacks, etc. In addition to the daily chores, kids can earn a big reward such as “Date with Mom/Dad” for every 10 days they complete all daily chores. You can give special tickets for good behavior you witness and the program also has additional materials to help you run constructive family meetings.
We started using this program with our kids when they were 3, 7, 9, and 10. I especially appreciated that the kids could basically consult their own “schedule,” since I included cards for personal hygiene and schoolwork, too. I liked that the chores were in time blocks, instead of rigidly scheduled at a certain hour; I’d tried another daily scheduling program, but it just made me feel guilty when we were constantly four hours behind schedule. If we were out of the house one day for errands and appointments, we just skipped that time block and went to the next that day. No guilt!
Pros–The program is highly visual, so it’s easy for both kids and parents to gauge progress through the chores. The chore cards can be customized; you get dozens of preprinted cards, as well as blank ones that you can make for your child’s specific tasks, such as piano practice or Bible reading.
Cons–The program is a little pricey: $45 for the basic kit for one child, with additional cards and peg boards available for purchase for $25. If you accidentally mount the peg boards near a door or high-traffic area, you can find yourself picking up the cards time and again as they’re blown or knocked onto the floor. Older kids (generally ages 11 and older) may start to find the program a little too simple.
For more information, visit The Accountable Kids website at www.accountablekids.com.
We now have five kids and this chore program is our kids’ current favorite. It’s a very simple, web-based program that you customize entirely for each child, for each day. The format is simple–they log into the website (or pull up the app), see their chores for the day, do them, and then confirm when they complete the chores. Mom gets to approve the chores before they get points added to their bank. Each chore is assigned a point value and kids can earn prizes as they accumulate points. You can add in chores without due dates, too, if you have a big, special chore that comes up every once in a while, like cleaning out the car or raking leaves. And you can give “just because” points when a child is helpful without being asked.
A cute little add-on is that doing chores gets you a spin on “The Wheel,” which mostly gives you dumb little electronic garbage like “dirty underwear,” but occasionally you get a new electronic monster for your collection. My son has made his sisters insane by accumulating a whopping 17 cool monsters, while his three sisters only have a handful each. We access the site through my smartphone, the laptop, and tablets.
Pros–The program is FREE; you’re just subject to a little advertising when it’s time to set up the kids’ awards. It’s customizable by child, by day, and by chore–I have three older kids who rotate the regular chores every few days so that no one gets bored doing the same chores each day. The awards are chosen by the kids; you can include a mix of small awards that can be earned every few days (I use candy, special snacks, and all-natural sodas), as well as bigger prizes to be earned long-term (my daughter is working toward a used desktop computer). And because it’s entirely web-based, you don’t have to be at home to remind the kids they need to read their Bible that afternoon while running errands or brush their teeth that night in the hotel room. I personally love that there’s no paper clutter associated with the chores anymore, which was always an issue when I used Accountable Kids and daily chore lists.
Cons–We have four kids that use the program and it can be tough having everyone vying for the electronics to see their chore list and check them off throughout the day. I also had trouble making sure the chores were evenly divided; our three oldest each empty the dishwasher twice a week, for instance, and I had to create a paper chart to make sure I covered everything for the week. You may have that one child (you know the one) who becomes obsessive over accumulating points and earning awards. There’s a lot of potty humor, too, which may bother some parents. And if you have a lot of kids, you have to be prepared to put out a little cash to buy the awards. Very young children (3-5) will probably need help to log in and get their chores done, but that’s probably the case with any chore system.
For more information, visit the Chore Monster website at www.choremonster.com.
TIME WITH MOM
Okay, so this one isn’t actually a chore system, but is more like something that will provide the foundation for good behavior, that will make it easier to motivate your kids to do their chores. I call it a “relationship builder” for mom and kids. The premise is simple: every day, your children get to pick an activity that they do with you, one on one. When I had three kids, each child got 20 minutes of time with me; a friend with five young children gave each child 15 minutes. The child is guaranteed the time with you; he can’t lose it for bad behavior or earn it by good behavior. (I find that the worse the child’s behavior, the more both of us need time to reconnect.) All children get their time or none of them do. On days when you have visitors or are out of the house for errands, you skip Time with Mom. Ideally,you should be able to give the kids their time with you at least 4 days a week.
You start by creating a board with each child’s picture on it, with hooks attached beneath the picture (see graphic). Then you create cards for each activity you can do together, with a hole punched at the top. The child picks an activity each morning, places the card beneath his picture, and then gets to do that activity with you–and just with you, not with you and siblings–when it’s his turn. The kids can help you design the activity cards, too and there’s no limit to the different things you can do together. I found that my kids especially loved dancing with me and talking on the phone (I’d call them on the landline from my cell phone).
Pros–Kids LOVE LOVE LOVE this. Even older children. Particularly in larger families, kids really crave that individualized attention and this is a way to ensure they’re getting it. You will reap serious relationship dividends out of this program, as your kids naturally become more willing to cooperate because they feel closer to you emotionally. The fact that time with you is something they’re entitled to is a powerful, unspoken message to kids; far too many children get the idea that they have to earn their parents’ love and this teaches that it’s their natural right as our children.
Cons–Parents will get very tired of it after about the second week. It will become like exercising–you will wish you didn’t have to do it, but you will always be glad you did once it’s over. If you have more than two children, it can be challenging to ensure you get everyone in each day; I found that setting a timer for every 3 hours helped me avoid it being bedtime and still having to give someone his time with me. You may have to deal with setting firm boundaries, as your other kids may test whether you REALLY mean that it’s only going to be the two of you. And if you have little ones, you must make sure they’re safely engaged before you do something with just one child. It also can be tougher to do if you work outside the home, but it can be adapted to do just on weekends or one or two days per week.