Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Our Chore System is Use All the Chore Systems

Moms are often talking about kids and chores, aren't they?  

How do you get your kids to do chores?  What age do kids start doing chores?  What are age appropriate chores?  Do you pay your kids to do chores?   Do you use a chart or reward system for chores?  Do they do chores in the morning or afternoon?  Do you use chores for punishment or as a disciplinary measure?  If you make your kids do chores will they grow to resent you and develop a warped and unprincipled attitude toward work and you will have been the direct cause of their miscreant lifestyle punctuated by their habitual dependence on government handouts and subsistence on free food samples at the grocery store (where they would never deign to work)?   

You see?  The worrying and wondering about kids and chores can go on and on.  I don't worry or wonder about chores anymore.  Over the years, our system of household chores has morphed into "use all the systems" and maybe one day, if the stars align themselves properly, there will be a 12 minute period in which all the household things have been done.  

We haven't had those 12 minutes yet, but I'd say my chore system of "use all the systems" is working for us.  

Our kids start chores young (shh!  don't tell the baby that he's not just "playing" with the Swiffer!) and we actually call them "chores."  (Some childhood specialists think you should call them "helpfulness tasks" or some other such nonsense, to which I say, "that's nonsense.")  

I'd like to tell you that my children do chores because I have lofty and noble goals about teaching them life skills and responsibility, the beauty of familial efforts, the value of hard work, and lessons in labor, reward, reimbursement, and banking........  but honestly, I'm just trying to keep my head above water here.  I mean, we could walk around on crumbs on the kitchen floor all morning and leave a welcome mat out for the rats that we've seen on our deck, or I can make sweeping a mandatory chore for a kid.  I pick the kid sweeping.  Everyone's helping and everyone contributes, all in the name of survival and keeping the rats at bay.   

Here's how we survive, I mean empower our children to be helpfulness task partners, around the house:

Method 1: DAILY MANDATORY CHORES (on a CHORE CHART) - Our kids have mandatory, non-negotiable chores to do each morning.  I think most families have this, right?  They are your basic, everyday chores for personal and household upkeep.  They don't earn you any rewards or reimbursements and they must be done in a reasonable amount of time.  The jobs are outlined on a magnetic board. They are done right after breakfast and before anything else can happen.  They are always the same, no surprises.  

The kids can trade jobs with each other if they want.  They can also ask a younger sibling for help; surprisingly, the younger ones often say yes... Once in a while, they even offer to help a sibling finish a job quicker.  (awesome, right?!)  

Each child has make your bed, get dressed (lame chore...), brush teeth.

My 5-year old daughter also has brush hair, put the girls' dirty laundry down the chute, and sometimes dust the stairs.

The older boys share these chores: wash the dining room table and chairs, vacuum the dining room, empty the clean dishes from the dishwasher, sweep the kitchen floor, collect the garbage from the trash bins around the house, take the garbage and recycling cans to the curb (if it's trash day and there isn't two feet snow outside), wipe down the bathroom sinks and toilets (only about every other day, usually).

Method 2: CHORES as a CONSEQUENCE - Kids misbehaving may be asked to do chores instead of a time out or other time-wasting consequence.  It's Mom's choice as to what gets done.  I love it!  It can be anything (folding laundry, picking up a room, washing the windows and mirrors on the first floor, organizing the toy closet, organizing the book shelves, mopping the kitchen floor, keeping the baby out of my hair for ten minutes) and it must be done to my satisfaction if the child expects to return to his playing, or whatever he was doing......  

Method 3: KIDS are PAID to do CHORES - If I have extra work that needs to be done, I'll offer it to someone for a specified amount of money.  Or if a child wants to earn some extra change, he can ask if there's anything extra that needs to be done.  Some of the chores that can earn cash around here include washing the car, cleaning out the inside of the van, weeding the garden, washing the kitchen cupboards, sweeping and mopping the bathroom floors.  We usually pay between 50 cents and $1 for chores.  

Method 4: CHORES as PART of SUMMERTIME BINGO - I don't know why, but doing extra chores always seems to be a popular choice on the BINGO charts.  Just another way the kids contribute to getting stuff done around here while working toward a fudge bar treat in the process ;)

Method 5: CHORES as a NATURAL TRANSITION from ONE ACTIVITY to ANOTHER - This method is clutch.  You can use it for pretty much ANY scenario --- "We're leaving for swim in 10 minutes, please clean up the living room."  "Our friends are coming over after lunch, please put away all the toys laying around the backyard."  "We can't watch Wild Kratts until all the laundry is put away and those 5,000 crayons are picked up off the floor."  "No one is going to Papa and Grandma's until the shoes are put away."  If the boys ever ask me if they can play iPad games, all I have to do is start glancing around the room and they know I'm assessing how much needs to be done before they can do games... I've had a lot of success with the "no iPad/Netflix unless the living room and play room are spotless" policy.  

For us, the variety of methods works.  The important stuff gets done daily, the extras get done when they fit into the schedule, and so far none of my kids have suffered from "labor confusion" (you know that bizarre-o condition child psychiatrists think will happen if you don't stick with one method or another for chores; it's especially intensified by toying with a child's mind by paying for some work and expecting other work to be done without compensation --- because the gifts of life, food, and shelter don't really count, of course.)   

I guess in a way, my system of "use all the systems" is sort of preparing them for real life.  Once they're out there in the "real world," no one is going to pay them to brush their teeth, put their own laundry away, or vacuum their own rugs, but they'll hopefully have the wherewithall by that time to know that those things must be done.  They will, most likely, have the opportunity to work for pay, reward, or reimbursement, when they're old enough to go out into the wide wide world to seek their fortune and soon realize that that really means "get a job."   They'll undoubtedly be in situations where they'll have to ask for help with tasks, or ask for additional tasks to make ends meet, or to offer their services (labor and talents) to those in need.   I suppose if they enter religious life they'll be given chores that they must complete under obedience.  Who knows, they may even need to work as a consequence (do they still have chain gangs??).  So, perhaps I should start pretending that my system really is intentional and "for the good of the children."

I'm pretty sure we're going to keep doing what we're doing as far as household chores are concerned.  I'm pretty sure my kids aren't being worked too hard.  I'm pretty sure they get that we all have to chip in to keep the house from swallowing up the family.   I'm a little less sure that they'd do as much around here if I abandoned my systems and just hoped they'd take matters into their own hands when they saw something that needed to be done.  But, that's why I'm the mom, and I'm in charge, and we'll keep using the "use all the systems" systems as long as it keeps working for us!


  1. Sounds like we do pretty much the same thing…I like the idea of all the methods being a method. Makes me feel more intentional in my chore policy ;) I do need to be better about expecting more out of daily chores because they can definitely do more than they currently do but I'm currently too lazy and/or distracted to make a new list!

  2. But, you didn't mention my go to chore system, which is for me to start banging my fist on the countertop and wail that no one ever helps and I can't possibly be expected to do all this work with nine people living in this house..... then again, I think yours would work MUCH better.. ;)

  3. Yes to all the systems!! I must say, I get an immense amount of satisfaction from my three year old being proficient with a broom.

    I've had great success with hanging baggies on a door. On the bag I write the commission job "mop the kitchen" and inside the bag, I put the payment. Something about having it there and visible is making those jobs happen a lot more often! Yay!

  4. This is great advice! I know I get hung up in picking the absolute best most perfect choice in any given situation and am always debilitated by my fears...you were spot on about worrying that making the wrong chore choices will lead to a life of poor work ethics and welfare checks--the struggle is real! I think the important thing is just to pick something and go with it. If it needs tweaking or changing or adding on to later that's fine. The kids *probably* won't be ruined for life :)

  5. Very awesome! I like that you use a bit of everything. I think that is so much more realistic than "choosing the one right way" (as if such a thing existed.)

  6. I have to do #5 more often. I always forget that (or am too lazy to enforce...)

  7. Sounds like the way we do things. ;)


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