Chore charts

Much has been written about goal setting and pursuit of goals. Recently, we began experimenting with “Chore Charts” in our home. What we’ve learned in the past week is a powerful example of goal setting.

A “Chore Chart” is a simple grid which has the days of the week on one side and a list of items on the other. Each day, if a chore has been performed, a sticker or a check mark is placed in the box. At the end of the week, the tally is counted up and some form of reward is given.

5 year old Christina\'s Chore Chart

The best thing I can say about Chore charts is that they have minimized the nagging and fighting in our house:

  • “Alex, take your vitamin. Alex, take your vitamin. Alex, take your vitamin. Alex!!!!!”
  • “Alex, you left the toilet seat up. Alex, please put the toilet seat down. Alex, you better start putting the toilet seat down. Alex!!!!”
  • “Christina, you need to try new foods. Christina, really, this is good. Christina, please try some mashed potatoes, they’re really not bad. Oh, Christina!!!”

My wife and I sat down and came up with a list of the top 10 things that we nag the kids about and reviewed the list with the kids. Of course, much groaning and whining commenced. We explained it this way:

“When we bring you to bed at night, we’ll just go down the list and put a check mark in the grid for every chore that you did that day. At the end of the week, we’ll give you 25 cents for each checkmark. But, you have to do these things without being asked. We might remind you, but we’re not going to ask you several times.”

Do they do every task every day? Of course not. But, a few things that used to be constant battles are now non-issues. For example, my son was blatantly, rebelliously, refusing to take his vitamin every single day. He knew it made us upset. He knew there was no real punishment for leaving it on his napkin after breakfast and ignoring our multiple reminders. Now that it means a dollar a week or so, there is never a word said about it and he has no reason not to take his vitamin at breakfast.

8 year old boy Alex\'s Chore Chart

What does this tell us about goals?

1) Goals need to be WRITTEN DOWN. In plain sight. Remember the old saying: “Tell me, I forget. Show me, I remember. Make me do it, I understand.” This is the “show me” stage.

2) Goals need to be REVIEWED. Looking at the list daily and asking the kids “how did you do today?” takes all of the burden off me as parent. It’s just a list. It’s a video game in which they can get points now. It’s fun. The tasks are easy.

3) Goals need a PURPOSE. Why do you want to lose weight or save money? Focusing on the PURPOSE builds motivation. Our kids now have a purpose. “I want to achieve my goal because it helps my allowance.”

I’m sure there is more that can be said here about goals. The point of this article is simply to give parents an idea to help reduce stress in their lives!

Here are the list of items we put on our charts at the moment. My son is 8.

  1. Turn off your computer before bed without being told
  2. Put the toilet seat down
  3. Take your vitamin without being asked
  4. Take your clothes out of the bathroom after the shower, straighten the shower curtain, and hang your towel up.
  5. Take out the garbage (weekly)
  6. Try a new food
  7. Listening ( this is mom’s call at the end of the day – if she doesn’t have to say “Alex, you aren’t listening….” then the sticker is earned.)
  8. Being nice to your sister. ( Any fights, teasing, repeated warnings or reprimands? )
  9. Putting away laundry (without being told)
  10. Doing homework without complaining
  11. Helping mommy
  12. Helping daddy

Christina is 5 years old and her list is as follows:

  1. Put away toys
  2. Be nice to your brother
  3. Go to the toilet and wipe yourself
  4. Being nice to people (Christina has a charming way of telling strangers to get their “fat hairy butt” out of her way in the grocery store and other politically incorrect observances…)
  5. Getting dressed by herself
  6. Helping mommy
  7. Helping daddy
  8. Doing reading/writing
  9. Trying a new food.

So, here are a few dos, don’ts, and other suggestions for chore charts:

  1. You make the list ahead of time and define exactly WHAT you want done and HOW you want it done.
  2. Begin with a clear definition of each task and try to make them CLEARLY a done/not done item. For example, making your bed means: “your bed is made before you leave for school, without me telling you, with the sheets flat and smooth”. If you have something vague like “being a good boy” – that leaves a bit open to interpretation…
  3. Resist the urge to remind the child to complete the item on the chore chart. The first few days should result in low scores. Kids need to feel the pain and realize the lost opportunity on their own. Furthermore, the point of the exercise is to eliminate the nagging and psychological tug of war.
  4. Review the chore chart objectively. This is a game of you and your child against “the list”. This is not a competition of you against your child. “Ooh cool, got that one!” “Oops, forgot the garbage today, oh well.”
  5. Let the child determine if the goal was accomplished. Sure, they will embellish their performance but it becomes a good way to discuss the actual performance of the task. “I think dishes means that you rinse them and put them in the dishwasher…. but okay, we’ll mark that one in for today.”
  6. Explain that some items are not available every day. If garbage day comes once a week, it can only be earned once a week. Not every chore is expected to be completed every day. In my opinion, even getting 60 percent of the items done in a week is better than if you had to spend the week nagging and pestering the child to do them.
  7. Money doesn’t have to be the only reward. TV minutes, Club Penguin points, or simple household points that can be exchanged.
  8. Throw in a “helping mommy” item that you can use to negotiate a random daily struggle. “Alex, can you please clean up the back yard so that I can mow the lawn? You can earn a Helping Daddy sticker.” It is really powerful to look back at the day and realize the times that your child helped you WITHOUT the bribe of a sticker. “You helped me put away laundry today, cool! So you get that sticker too!”
  9. Remember reverse psychology: “Oh, no! You better stop doing so many chores! I’m going to run out of money! Oh, no! Not the litterbox cleanup sticker!?!? Oh, my goodness. You are doing too many helpful things!!!”

In conclusion, try to keep it all in perspective. The chore chart is a means of progress and a means to help the child take ownership of his/her actions. Making it an impartial system without stress is the whole point. If it becomes yet another tug of war, then it is not working. If you made a list of 10 things your kid does that drive you bananas and you could remove 4 of those a day from your routine, wouldn’t that be something wonderful?

Please click the following link if you have MS Powerpoint on your computer and would like to download a chore chart template.

Click on the image to view a larger version

Click on the image to view a larger version

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