Monday, April 11, 2011

Questions Answered

Thanks for all of your comments and questions on Friday's post. I was a little afraid that no one would respond--you know, "sandlot-baseball-and-last-one-picked" syndrome. And we survived the freezing cold--I got a babysitter for the three little kids, and it was actually refreshing to listen without herding monkeys the entire time.

Kids and work. Wow. I hate that subject. Gabe's question was this:
How do you keep you kids on task? I've tried charts, lists, etc...but unless I am nagging them 24/7 (something I am not good at) then their stuff doesn't get done...they just don't seem trainable, my children...

Funny things, children.  I happened to catch them doing this last night:  working.  And working together, no less. With no fighting or complaining. I had to snap pictures to preserve it for my sanity.  It DOES happen sometimes.  Rarely, but sometimes.
It seems like I’ve been parenting since the beginning of time, and because it’s been so long, I’ve tried many, many different systems of doing chores. Growing up, my mom always had a job chart, so of course I thought this was the only way to do chores.

When it was just Heidi and Tucker, I made two poster boards with personalized jobs (Heidi’s included no whining and Tucker’s included no biting—they were LITTLE) which I had laminated.  Then, every night before bed, we’d use a marker and check off each job that was done. If their total at the end of the week was a certain number, then we made a treat or bought one at the store.  It worked, until they got older.

When I had four kiddos to motivate, I made laminated, color-coded flip charts, held together with O-rings.  Each chore included a “quick-clean” and a “deep-clean” method. Most days were “quick-clean,” while Saturdays were always “deep.” To rotate chores, I just traded the name tag on the front.  This was a ton of work for me, but it worked, as long as I was the slave driver.  When I got tired of it (which was pretty quickly), they didn’t work very hard.

Brad’s mom was of the opposite school—kids do what I say and when I say it.  The more kids I had, the more often I resorted to this method.  I tried to keep it fair—if Ben had emptied the dishwasher yesterday, I’d ask Tucker to do it today, etc.  This method works great when kids all come and go at different times and have different abilities. We also added the “swarm of locusts” approach, usually spearheaded by Dad.  He gets all the kids together, and as one big group, they descend on one room at a time and clean quickly.  This works for him, but not so much for me.

Saturday always includes a job list, more in depth and required to be finished before playing or leaving.  Jobs are non-negotiable. And no allowance. You live here, you work here, you can eat here. Period.

Since the end of March, we’ve gone back to a chart system.  I divided every day into “before school”  “after school” and “after dinner.”  The chores mostly rotate, but some are always the same, like homework, room, and mudroom cubby.  We do charts on weekdays, then a list on Saturday, and swarm of locusts on Sunday.

That’s a lot of explanation, isn’t it?  And it doesn’t answer the question of “How do I keep them on task?” does it?  I think the answer is a bit complicated.  One way I keep them on task is to make sure the task fits the ability.  Hyrum’s job is always to empty the silverware from the dishwasher.  When you turn six (and they all know this), then you start emptying the whole dishwasher.  Micah clears and wipes the table every night, and Hyrum always pushes in the chairs and cleans the floor underneath.  If the jobs are bite-sized and they can succeed, it encourages them to try. Ben and Lily are suffering from lack of other older siblings, so their chores have gotten a little heavier.

I also discovered last summer (I'm a slow learner, obviously) that if I do a big task with them, they work better.  We cleaned out the fridge, organized the computer desk, organized the toys, etc., all together, with me showing them how to accomplish a satisfactory product. Then, when they have to do the job, they know better, because I showed them how. It was so good, when I have the time to do it.

I hate staying on top of them all the time.  Most of my kids are highly distractable, so I have to ride herd on them constantly.  I hate that.  It’s almost always easier for me to do the work myself and not involve them.  But I know it’s important to teach kids the value of work, so I always do a few things: 
Rarely do I finish a job for them.  If they leave for school or whatever and their job’s not done, it’s waiting for them when they get back, with an added job as consequence.  This inconveniences me frequently, since the kitchen won’t be fully clean all day while it waits for the kid to complete it.

 I also have small incentives—if the bedroom is clean four out of five school mornings, then you get a small treat on Friday.  This works with the three younger kids, but Ben’s cleanliness isn’t so easily bought.

Whenever possible, let them work within their own time constraints.  If they want to take all afternoon to clean the family room, let them.  They pay the price, not you.

That being said, I use the timer--a lot. It works.  And then I'm not the bad guy.

Does this mean that my house sparkles?  Au contraire.  Does this mean my monkeys are always cheerful and compliant?  I don’t think so.  But I have seen rewards as they’ve gotten older.  Even Ben in the last few months has developed an, “easier-to-not-complain-and-just-get-it-over-with” attitude.  That has rubbed off on the little ones. 

Does this mean that I’m not exhausted from slave-driving?  Sometimes I am.  Sometimes I can’t be bothered with it, and the house devolves into a pit of despair.  Then we’re all sorry.  So my answer?  Keep at it, change it up, don’t do their work for them.  As they get older, they’ll learn.

Long post.  Long answer.  Hope it answers the question.
What words of wisdom do you have to share?



  1. My mom always taught me, when I'm cooking or baking, to clean up the kitchen as I go. For some reason it stuck, and it's so nice to NOT have a gigantic cleanup at the end of a complicated dinner or when doing a lot of baking. It didn't stick so well with any of my kids, but hey - now it's THEIR kitchens that are a mess, not mine.

  2. I like your idea of varying the jobs. I made the mistake of asking my youngest son to always unload the dishwasher. He was good at it, dependable and he never complained. Well now that he's married he says that is one thing he just can't stand to do so his wife always does it. He helps in lots of other ways I hear, but he won't unload the dishwasher.I should have been more like you.

  3. Oh I love this. We do not do job charts or division of labor - but that everyone pitches in and does what I ask them to do. ..and not complaining or you get to do your sister's job too.

  4. Sometimes when the house is just a mess and we're all overwhelmed I give everyone an assignment ( me included), turn the music on super loud, set the timer for the agreed amount of time and we GO! It's crazy but it works and as soon as the timer goes off we're done and we get to watch a show or go outside to play.

  5. Thanks for the input...i guess because charts have failed miserably for me I thought I was doing it wrong...we do the assignment idea...which works, I just get a lot of grief! Guess that comes with the territory.

    Now, If I could only get my boys to brush Po their teeth without being told!

  6. It seems like between the two of us we have tried EVERTTHING!! For us a job list printed out on the fridge worked best. You can't do anything until you work is done, no friends or tv. Part of the success was I always put it up the night before and then they expected and since it wasn't coming out of my mouth they remembered and could see progress as they checked it off.
    We also use the swarm method - Start at one end and everyone picks up and puts away - we can do the whole house in about an hour.

    Of course I do love my secret weapon!

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  8. I still remember the picture I took of Gary sweeping the floor in his tux because he had to finish his work before he went out. You had such a mean mother!

  9. This sounds a lot like the way my mom handled chores when we were kids. She switched things up a lot, and I think that was a good thing. One thing's for sure; we all learned to work!

    So I guess she got it right.


  10. We're definitely a "do as I say" kind of famly. I know the charts wouldn't work for us. sometimes we pay a little depending on the task. Sometimes my oldest will ask "Mom, i really need a couple dollars, is there anything I can do to earn it?"

  11. Such great ideas...I'm afraid my answer to that question would be "I don't"...yikes. I really to get some kind of system.