Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Mommy School 2011-12: What I Learned About Checks and Spikees

I've been a mom a long time.

A very long time.  Sometimes it seems like forever.

Two things I've struggled with as a parent for forever:  teaching kids to work and teaching kids to speak kindly.

As a kid, the same work chart was posted under the kitchen fire extinguisher for as long as I can remember.  Job lists stayed the same every week, our names rotated across the top. Not rocket science, but it was effective.  I've had many systems over the years, but none of them was permanent, mostly because kids just didn't complete their chores to my satisfaction, so I was always trying something new.
In January we tried a new chore enforcement system, and it  works!

Each child chose a sticky note color (from top to bottom Ben, Lily, Micah, Hyrum).  Every morning after the kids left for school, I would check their rooms, bathrooms, and at night after bed I would check their chores.  If even a single thing was left out or undone, I would toss a sticky note atop the offending item, then place a check by their sticky note on the board with a short note describing the infraction.  Whoever had the least number of checks at the end of the week earned lunch with Mom on Saturday or got to choose their Saturday chore list.

This worked really well for a few months.  Then, Ben decided he didn't care if he got to pick his chores or eat lunch with his mama.  This is when I had a stroke of PURE genius.  Instead of placing check marks by their color, I began counting from the first infraction I encountered and recorded that number instead.  (In this example, Ben had the first and fifth missed job, Lily the second, Micah the third, and Hyrum the fourth.)  The numbers on the board would reflect the difficulty of chores assigned on Saturday morning--#1 is always sweep and mop all of the hard floors, #2 is always kitchen counters, and the rest rotate depending on the level of disarray at the Sanatorium.

What made this system work better than anything before, and what has made it stick, is the promise of reward at the end of the week--the number of checks they have during the week is the number of chores they are assigned on Saturday.  If no checks occur, then MOM does all the chores on Saturday.  Not that that has happened yet, but I have noticed the number of infractions drop from 4-5 for each child per week to 1-3 each per week.  And those who only have one have a gloriously liberating Saturday.  Plus, I figure that if they ever do have a no-infraction week and I am required to do all the Saturday chores, the house will be so clean that it won't take me long at all.

PURE genius, right?  It's worked really well.  The biggest benefit I've found is that I'm not nagging on them every second to do their chores--the chalkboard does all the talking for me.  Another side benefit?  I'm not the bad guy, the chalkboard is.  I thought it would increase my time policing chores, but it has actually decreased.  We'll have to see how this works over the summer when everyone's home all day long, but I have high hopes.

As for talking kindly, Lily came up with this solution.
Following on the heels of the colored sticky notes, each family was assigned a colored pom pom. Whenever we hear yelling or screaming or unkind words, Mom puts in one of that person's pom poms (aptly named by Ben as "spikees" because pom poms and fuzzies were too sweet-sounding).  We have a family goal of how many spikees can be in the jar every week, and if we're under that number, then we take everyone out for an ice cream cone or a treat at home.  We began with a goal of under twenty infractions for our family in a week, and we gradually whittled that number down a few every week.  Then, we began setting individual goals of cutting their number in half during the week for a reward.

This has worked better than I ever thought possible.  It stops unkind speaking or yelling instantly without Mom or Dad having to yell back.  All we have to say is, "That's a spiky in the jar, " and the offending kid stops.  That in itself is a miracle.  No back talk.  No justification.  They just stop with the unspoken threat that another spiky could follow.  It has also been interesting to see who the biggest offenders of unkind/loud talk are--Ben has gone many weeks without a single spiky in the jar, and Brad rarely has one (but he's not home as much as Mom is!).  Lily has conquered her biggest problem of back talking.  Micah got the most spikees for whining back, and he's doing much better.  Hyrum is still working on hitting, and Mom has caught herself many a time before another hot pink spiky had to be tossed in the jar.  Eve?  Evie doesn't have an assigned color, but with her passing through the terrible twos right now, our jar would be overflowing, so we're cutting her a break for now.

Summer will be a challenge since everyone will be home 24/7, but I think it will still have the same effect. At least I hope so.

Can't believe it's taken me 21 years to find solutions that work for our family.  What works with your family?


  1. I am going to have to reread this several times over to truly understand the system. It sounds really effective. The question is, am I consistent enough to enforce it? The spiky jar is something I will be trying right away. That one I think I can do! And beleive me, we need it in our house of girls.

  2. Looks like a great system. I'm not sure I ever figured it out.

  3. ok, I officially am a bad mom. my system is, "if you don't work, you don't eat." now I'll go hang my head in shame....although I have to admit they've each lost a meal or two and now everything seems to be done before I ask. But I feel so MEAN.

  4. Good systems Jen! I think you have to do whatever works...and that often means tweaking it here and there. I'm sure you've had different systems in place all along. I've never had trouble with the chore thing...but we have struggled before with talking back. We would give Brady 3 checkers in the morning...each were worth 10 minutes. If he said something not nice or talked back, we took a checker. At the end of the day if he had any left, he was able to stay up an extra 10, 20 or 30 minutes. It worked really well...because getting to stay up really motivated him!

  5. Ours is simple: Work before Play.
    And we used to have An Ugly Jar for the ugly words...I need to get that back out for the summer, though. It costs a nickel per ugly word, and the person who is least offensive, gets the money at the end of the month.

  6. I usually yell at them with my most threatening voice and tell them to STOP IT! It seems to work for me.

  7. I LOVE this! I need to work on this, especially with the 7 year old who LOVES to back talk. What is it with girls and back talk?!? I think we may start doing this!

  8. I can tell you're gearing up, girding your loins for summer. I think you're ideas are superb.

  9. yes i can see the 2 big kids in my house not care about lunch with me...ohhh she'd prob do theirs just to make sure she won it! haha

  10. yep, further confirmation that you really are the uber-mom i think you are ;-) It's all amazing!! Several years ago, we did have a jar that gained chips (poker chips actually) in a very similar system to your spikees ... but man how I wish we'd had your chore system in place - definitely gonna need to reread that one!!

  11. OKay, this is genius! I struggle with the same thing. Odd thing is, my house is cleaner during the summer months than it is the rest of the year. Huh.
    But I am lovin the contention eliminator! I am going to try it at my house!!

  12. I noticed your system last month, and it is on my list to check out a bit more....soon....and in person! Can I tell you how excited we are to come back? Except the whole packing and actual moving part....dreading that!