Put ‘em to work!

August 20, 2012

When Melody approached the topic of how being a mother has changed her home (it is now a mess) and asked for tips and feedback from other moms in her post titled, “I used to have a clean house“, it started a conversation on our facebook page about what we do in our home to involve our kids in the process of keeping our house enjoyably neat.  I would like to share our “system” with you and invite you to offer comments, feedback or questions about what you do (or don’t do) or plan to do with your kids to encourage them to be active participants in the upkeep of your home.

We have a list:

Perhaps some of you will recall the blog post I wrote in January of 2011 called “Let’s organize our day: the evening routine.”  In it, I mentioned a list that i would set out for my two oldest children (who were 5 and 7 at the time) outlining what needed to be done in the morning before they went to school.

We have a problem:

This method worked fairly well for my 7 year old son who is systematic in nature and a strong reader.  However, over time the intent of the list (to help them manage their own tasks) began to fail and simply became my checklist for nagging: “Hunter, have you brushed your teeth yet?”  ”Hunter, please stay focused”  ”Hunter, which task are you working on right now?”

We adjusted our plan:

Around that time I listened to an online podcast by The Power of Moms by Richard and Linda Eyre (the authors of The Entitlement Trap) which encouraged parents to shift their focus away from allowances (simply giving kids money) and toward a family system of “choosing, earning and ownership”.  One of the ideas presented in the podcast included a weekly responsibility chart which the child fills out and turns in at the end of the week.  Each responsibly had a monetary value attached allowing the child the opportunity to earn their own money for the “extra” items that child wished to purchase.

I saw that there was an opportunity to improve upon our current system using the ideas provided by Richard and Linda.  I set to work revamping and creating a responsibility chart for our two oldest children.  Each list was unique to the child for which is was made and includes both morning and afternoon responsibilities.  Although many tasks were the same (they each needed to brush their teeth for instance), some differed based on ability and maturity.  We did choose however to make the lists fairly equal in the overal number of tasks as well as the payout provided for completing the tasks.  Since the kids have more free time durring the summer, I have tweaked the lists during the non-school months to include an extra “weekly” job each day (such as the one Hunter is doing in the photo below-cleaning the guest bathroom sink and mirror).

Admittedly it can take longer to teach a child how to do a task that is quick for an adult.  But I truly believe the importance of not only the task learned but the responsibility gained is worth it.  Over time, if that child is encouraged (and not belittled) for the tasks they are learning to master, they will soon be able to do them as well as you.  Here is a tip I have found to work well for me: When Hunter completes a job such as washing the mirror I go in the bathroom and look it over with him.  I ask, “Hunter, if you were an employer and you just hired someone to wash this mirror for you, would you feel his job is complete or did he miss any areas?”  Presenting this question allows him to look at his own work objectively and without feeling like I am pointing out errors (he is critiquing himself).

We have been using our revised list plan for a few months now and overall I am very happy with how it is working.  Hunter has now reached a point in which he begins his lists unprompted (most of the time) and knows exactly what is expected of him often without even referencing his list.  Ashlyn still needs encouragement to get started but she now is able to read everything on her list on her own (using pictures to represent the tasks in addition to words can help a lot in this area if you have a young child).  I have found that using extra motivation often works well too (such as: we can leave for our play date today once your morning responsibilities are completed OR our family movie night will begin once you both have your evening responsibilities finished).

I’d love to hear from you: Do you use a system like this or something totally different for your kids? What about when you were growing up, what did your parents do with you in this area?  Do you have any questions or tips?

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