Monday, August 26, 2013

Chores and Rewards

I was explaining to a friend (D) the other day how routines and habits help keep Socials and Messys and FRANs from living in chaos. Specifically, we were discussing our household chores. I have to admit, I'm not an expert in this area, despite what some people think. But I have had a lot of experience in getting kids to do chores, so that's primarily what this is about.

A second friend (C) jumped in and said, "We don't do sticker charts or any kind of reward like that. I expect my kids to obey me no matter what, because Jesus told them to." While I whole-heartedly agree with this on issues of safety (Get out of the street now), character/morality (Don't hit your sister; you wouldn't want her to hit you), and simple commands (Put your shoes on so that we can leave), I don't necessarily agree when it comes to habits and routines.

I consider household chores to fall in the habits and routines area of parenting because one of our responsibilities as parents is to teach our kids tools that help them become responsible adults. Cleaning your house is part of that. That may seem like a no brainer to someone who is innately gifted with organization, duty, responsibility, and habitual living. Some of us, though, were not born with those things. We had to learn them. And then we have to teach them to our kids that weren't born with organized genes how to be organized. Daily chores routines are the core of these lessons.

C went on to explain how her "chore chart" is a list of the days of the week, with a single chore listed by each day. All four of her kids (2-6) are expected to work together to accomplish that one chore. On laundry day, a basket of clothes is set aside for them; they all fold the whole load together; they all put away the whole load together. This is a great idea. It's especially effective with little ones like this who are learning teamwork and how to avoid sibling rivalry. And it gets the really little ones involved while the older ones learn patience in dealing with their younger siblings. 

But what if your family isn't made up of a close spread of little kids? After all, my friend D and my other friend T (Who I promised I'd post this for) don't have that profile. They have a gap family: older kids-gap-younger kids. In the particular case of T, C's system might work simply because she just has two kids and there is a lot of sibling rivalry engendered by the age gap. Forcing those two to work together would prove interesting. However their skill level difference is much wider than C's kids, so, maybe not. In her case, especially because her children have completely different personalities, I'd suggest two completely different systems. It doesn't make T's life easier, but it's more effective. 

And here we reach the crux of the matter: different personality types work best in different situations; and even in the same child, at different ages they need different situations. I once read a parenting book (wish I could remember which one so I could cite it) that said something along the lines of, "Parenting requires a set of skilled tools. The more tools a parent has in their toolbox, the more options they have to try until they find the tool that works." So, here is one more tool for those of you looking for skilled tools in the chore department. 

For the most part, I expect my kids to obey right away simply because I told them to. And in the future there will be no reward system to doing what is expected of them (like allowance in exchange for chores). But for right now, when establishing habits is so very vital, I am relaxing a bit on my "no bribery ever" stance. I convince myself it's ok because they are earning the rewards. 

In case you didn't know, my Laura is an S in the S.E.L.F. Personality Test. She's artistic, dramatic, outgoing, controlling, goofy, colorful, and highly emotional. Karen is an F. She's organized, introverted, smart, thinking, rational, motivated, and dutiful. They're pretty much the opposite in everything. Except that in typical Second Child fashion, Karen wants to be just like Laura. If I were dealing with just Karen, aged three, I would simply invite her to help me with all of my own chores. This is the way I started Laura out with chores. It is highly effective in the training stage and for little Fs and Ls. It is not effective for Ss or Es. Because I have Laura, I had to find a system that was sufficiently reward driven, autonomous chores. But it still had to be guided and teamwork oriented for Karen who is still learning all of this stuff. So, I came up with the following system:

The girls each have a coiled wrist key ring (David does too, but he doesn't really need it yet.) All of their chore cards are on their ring, with cards indicating when specific chores should be done. I got the cards from Biblical Parenting. I laminated each of these, so hopefully, they'll last a while. Each day that they finish all of their chores, they get a sticker on the calendar. Ignore the big black letters on the calendar; they're for a completely different parenting tool, which you can learn about some other time :-). Underneath the big black letters are three little letters, this is where the stickers go. Let's be honest here: David is not going to be wiping out his chore list and getting a sticker every day. However, if the girls help him pick up the toys in his room, they can earn a third sticker for the day. When a particular child gets two stickers, both stickers get crossed out and they get to randomly pull a letter from the letter bag. The letters each match up with a letter on the prize list. Some letters like C and Z can only go toward one prize, while others like E and T can go toward 4/5. They get to pick which prize their letter lands on. Now, since they have the potential to earn three stickers every other day (or even just two stickers every other day), and all the prizes are seven or eight letters long, there is the potential to earn a prize every week. But they'd have to work together and pull just the right letters. Once a prize is earned, we put it on the family calendar (it doesn't have to be that day), and all the letters get taken off the prize chart, so they have to start over. I got this procedure from An Educator's Life

As you can see, we had a false start earlier this month, but the week before school, I really pumped up the system and talked about it incessantly until my little S got motivated to actually do it. For the most part, they love the system. After they get that first reward, I'm sure they'll love the system even more. It works for Laura because she gets her gold star and prize (Ss love sticker charts and prizes). It teaches her habits and routines which, as an S, she desperately needs. It works for Karen because Laura is doing it and Mommy helps her with a lot of her chores. It teaches her The Proper Procedure, which, as an F, she desperately needs. 

One last word about this. Standards. I was a FRAN child of a Born Organized mother. My mother had habits and routines and she made me do them, but I didn't realize that's what had happened until I found FlyLady. The biggest lesson I learned from FlyLady was not how to set up a cleaning schedule. It was "Housework done imperfectly still blesses my family." I hold myself to higher standards than I expect out of anyone else in my family. After all, I was trained by a superb housekeeper. The chores on Laura and Karen's cards may seem way beyond their age capabilities (vacuum living room, sweep kitchen, fold and put away laundry, etc), however, while they do these chores every day, it is not done anywhere near perfection. It's more about establishing the habits and going through the motions. I expect more Cheerios to be swept up when Laura does it verses Karen doing it, but I still expect her to miss a few behind the table leg. As they get older, WHAT is on their chore list probably won't change, but HOW WELL it is done will change. 

And that's where we circle back around to T and her two kids (14,6). She expects more out of her fourteen year old than she does her six year old. Even though her six year old is way more detail oriented than her fourteen year old. 

No one system will be perfect for your entire family for their entire lives. But hopefully this one will help cover most of the children for most of their lives.

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