Chores pt 5: 8 great tips for parents

Chores pt 5: 8 great tips for parents

I warned you in the beginning of this series on chores: all kids are different and you will have to do some finagling to find the right system for your child. And that right system may change in a year. Still, it’s important to remember:

Most kids can do a lot more than we think they can.

Here are some valuable tips I’ve picked up over the years from other parents, books, and my own experience.

  1.  For younger children, give them their reward at the time of service. Kids over 7 can start to understand the concept of waiting for a weekly allowance or reward.
  2. Avoid overwhelm by setting a timer or giving a STOP time for each task.
  3. It’s a valuable thing to learn to discern what you like and excel at. Trying all sorts of chores will help your child figure this out.
  4. Thank your child for helping the family. Develop their pride in a job well done.
  5. Lead by example: Do housework while kids are around. Talk about how you feel about your duties.
  6. Delegate your weaknesses to reduce the temptation to do it yourself.
  7. Give them the instruction and the tools to succeed. Don’t jump on their back for messing up the first few times they try a new skill or for forgetting how to do the job completely. Think about your workplace. What if someone went behind you micro-managing your efforts? AHH!
  8. Think about the chores you did when you were a kid. How do you feel about them in retrospect?

putting away flatware

All of these life skills are to prepare your sweet babies to go out into the cruel world. You aren’t being a meanie. You are being realistic! As they get older, it gets easier to imagine how they will react to life situations. Let these realizations inspire you to crack that whip (with love in your heart). <3


A side note about allowance:

Chores and allowance are two distinct and separate things. You can have one without the other. All I will say about allowance is, if you give your child money, you must teach them how to manage it.

(These pictures are of my adorable niece who is totally into putting things where they go.)


Chores pt 4: Beyond a Chore Chart to Teach Time Management

Chores pt 4: Beyond a Chore Chart to Teach Time Management

After a couple of weeks of a new chore regimen, expect some push back from everyone.

The novelty is gone and frankly, we are over it!

People who are procrastinators by nature are never going to be that excited about a To Do list or a chore chart. So, we have to get creative. Here are some things to try especially if one or more of your kids are just not into charts and lists.

Timers and alarms and clocks

Every child needs to have easy access to analog clocks and timers if you expect them to develop a logical sense of time passing. Digital clocks are just numbers that magically change. What do they mean anyway? To a kid, not much. Get them some old fashioned clocks with hands. Kitchen timers that tick down as the pointer moves toward zero are also great.

How can a timer help, you ask?

Your son is sick of you nagging him and besides, he’s right in the middle of a chapter!

Son, when this timer goes off it is time for you to take a bath.” Leave the room.

Now you aren’t telling him to take a bath, the timer is! And it usually works.

If you notice your child(ren) having trouble remembering what the timer signifies (because it is always changing) use sticky notes beside the timer. TAKE A BATH

Phase 1: check on them (silently) when the timer sounds and give gentle reminders about what they are to be doing

Phase 2: let them set the timer themselves at your prompting (“15 minutes until bathtime”)

Phase 3: independent time management with one task at a time.

chore time lineTimelines

This is the winning solution for my VERY STUBBORN, introspective child who procrastinates like he was being paid to.

Create a timeline for the after-school (or morning) time period. End the timeline 30 minutes before bedtime to provide a cushion. We are setting them up to succeed.

Mark off 15 minute increments like in this photo.

Create pieces of paper to indicate activities in corresponding sizes. For example, dinner at our house takes a bit under 30 minutes. So we have a Dinner piece of paper that is the right size to occupy two 15 minute sections of the timeline.

Create pieces of paper that simply say Chore if the chores vary from day to day.

When your child gets home from school, one of the first things they do is set up their timeline. They design their afternoon! If they want to put everything at the end of the day, they will learn how that plays out. Let them try it! Give them a chance to learn from experience. Maybe they will rock it and you know they’ll be the students pulling all-nighters in college to finish a project.

This timeline gives your child a lot of freedom and it saves you a lot of yelling and the frustration of trying to convince them that it’s really a better idea to take a shower after you play baseball. It’s about learning and figuring out how life works.

Phase 1: help them set up the timeline everyday just by practically making sure the pieces stick on and that everything is included. 15 minute increments

Phase 2: “Have you set up your timeline yet today?”

Phase 3: they enter items into their own digital calendar themselves and follow that instead (or as well)

Just because a chart or list didn’t work for your child doesn’t mean they are never going to be able to be a contributing member of society. Use timers and reminders, calendars and timelines to start teaching them time management and how to prioritize. Those skills are just as important as How to Load a Dishwasher.

Who has another not-a-chart chore system? Do tell! in the comments.

Chores pt 3: The Subtle Arts of Persuasion and Bribery

Chores pt 3: The Subtle Arts of Persuasion and Bribery

Looking around the kitchen I see a big, fat mess! And it’s my turn to clean it up tonight. I don’t even know where to start. There’s a sink full of dirty dishes, splattered oil all over the stove, crumbs on the floor. The dishwasher hasn’t been emptied because of a schedule mix-up.

Oh, it’s dismal all right!

In general, I am a pretty healthy person. But man, when I have a kitchen-full-of-mess staring me in the face I am all about a cocktail or a few cookies to get me through it.

Do you like a treat when you are doing something taxing? Or a reward after you do it?

Keep this in mind when getting your kids in the habit of doing chores. One of the most important life skills I admire in other people is the ability to make a sucky job enjoyable. So, I’ve been thinking about how to teach my kids that skill.

On one hand, I DO NOT ADVOCATE EXCESS BRIBING because life doesn’t promise you M&Ms and our goal is to get our children ready for real life. On the other hand, one of the most effective methods of persuasion I have found sounds like this:

“Yes, you can have dessert. After you have cleared the table.”

and this

“Yes, we can go to the park. After you pick up everything that’s on the floor and put it away.”

“Yes, you can watch TV while you fold your clothes.”

and even this when they are older (and can understand consequences abstractly)

“We cannot go for yogurt today because you didn’t finish your chores before we left the house.” (assuming that expectation was made clear so the announcement of their failure isn’t a surprise)

Let’s talk some practical ways to motivate kids. I’m anxious to learn from you in the comments section, too. Please! I need ideas just as much as anyone.

Chore chart: the old standby

Chore charts work for self-motivated people (like professional organizers).

A very simple chart (attached) can work for young children for things like:

Stay in my own bed all night.

Brush teeth.

A more advanced chart may include the pay rate for each chore. (The attached chart is made specifically to fit into the colorful frame pictured here.)

chore chart w check list

regular tasks listed in top rows, and ways to earn extra money listed below





Chore boards

Chore boards are more free-flowing than charts for kids who aren’t as type A.

Create a board (or just a blank space) that has an area for each kid. Chores are on post-it sized paper. Kids get to pick their chores for the 2-month period (or however long your family decides to go between chore rotation) and put the post-its in their area.


Use an erasable surface and write 1-3 chores on it each day. Even if there isn’t a chore to do, write something new there for the first week or so until everyone is in the habit of checking the board.

Fill a container.

Use a (small) physical container and gems/rocks/beans. Each deed earns a rock or gem in the container. Ten rocks/full container = reward.

Draw a container (a la fund raising) and color in segments when chores are completed. When the container is colored in, it’s reward time.

For all systems:

Phase 1– give them the sticker, the money, something right at the time of service. praise and celebration

Phase 2– they mark off their own progress. Praise and celebration come upon reaching a goal, or at the end of the week.

Phase 3– no big whoop. You did your chores. OF COURSE YOU DID!

Some kids will be motivated to do the work to get the reward. And some, like me, will appreciate the treat while they are working.

Some non-monetary treats enjoyed while working:

Play their favorite music LOUD during family chore time.

Hang out with them while they do their job. This is one tricky because it isn’t good to do the job for  them, and that is tempting if you are just sitting, hanging out. But, some alone time with you may be a really nice thing that they’ll want to earn more of.

A lollipop or gum while they vacuum or water plants.

Pro tip: Avoid overwhelm by setting a timer so they can see the end in sight.

Next week: what to do when even a fancy chore chart and watermelon Hubba Bubba don’t cut it for your little angel.

Chores pt. 2: Why Continuity is More Important than Clean

Chores pt. 2: Why Continuity is More Important than Clean

“How can I have my kids on a chore routine when they go back and forth to my ex’s house all the time?”

My friend Lucia is one of those ladies who looks polished and arrives places on time, with well-behaved children and snacks. She has things together and it shows. So, it’s not surprising there would be some disconnect between the way she expects her girls to act and the way they act when they are at their dad’s house. Let’s just say, Dad isn’t quite as organized.

Most children are not raised solely by one adult. There are the kids in traditional, two-parent homes. Some spend time at grandma’s or have a sitter after school. Considering the little village raising your child, a large first step in creating a viable chore routine is to get all involved adults on board as much as possible.

Last week you thought of your motivation for assigning chores. This week I have some practical ideas for you and for my friend, Lucia, to get your chore routine rolling this summer.

Whether your kids spend time in two homes or with multiple care givers (mom, dad, sitter, Nana), create a List of Family Expectations, (This attached example is for toddlers. It’s from our house circa 2008) and print and display a copy in both houses.

For elementary children, here are some examples of expectations you could include in your family’s list:

  • When someone is talking, try your best to wait until they are finished with their idea.
  • When you are asked to help someone, respond with a level head.
  • Helping each other makes the whole family better!
  • Screen time is earned by doing all of your chores for the day
  • Piano practice happens every day
  • Getting clean happens every day
  • Flossing happens every day

It is possible for divorced parents to share a list of family expectations. You have to find some common ground and emphasize it for the kids’ sake. It is also possible for your children to do their chores when someone else is watching them. That’s where fostering good habits comes in.

For all types of parents

No matter their living situation, it helps kids to have a sense of continuity. Lists or posted reminders are good ways to foster continuity. And if you have a hard time remembering a new habit/chore that’s added to the rotation, a posted sign will help you as well. Speaking of continuity, here’s a parenting tip from my esteemed colleague Standolyn Robertson,

“I made chore cards for my boys when they were little. Each card had step by step instructions for the chore. The expectation was always the same.”

She had a more elaborate chore schedule, but this idea of chore cards is a good place to start. In any case, pretty much anything Standolyn says, I try. She is just that kind of awesome. So, my Sweep the Kitchen chore card has ten detailed steps which are very specific: from #1- move the barstools out of the room, to #10- return the barstools to the counter. Keep each card near the place where the chore happens–stuck to the wall or inside a cabinet door (like our bathroom card shown above). Laminate the cards with clear packing tape or a fancy-pants laminator. You can even type up a list and add graphics for Pinterest points.

“I had them do each chore rotation for 2 months.” Standolyn adds, “ It takes time to get good at it– to develop pride and take ownership. If you are watering plants, you do not want plants to die on your watch.”

Other ideas for keeping it consistent:

  • Designate a chore day/time that happens each week.
  • Use a wall calendar for each child. They get an X for each day they do a chore. The Xs create a visual chain.
  • Post chores in the same place every time. (all kinds of chore charts, bells, and whistles next week. Stay tuned!)

Any tricks you can share with us? Please comment below.

Also, to get you started, here is a list of some age-appropriate chores to consider.