Ever since parent blogging started, one of the most discussed topics I’ve found is kids and chores. Topics like:
- When should kids start chores?
- Should they have them at all?
- What kinds of chores should they do based on their ages?
- How much can you expect them to accomplish?
- If they have chores, should they be paid or is it part of being a family and helping out?
- If they get paid, how much should they get?
- Do different chores earn different amounts?
- Should you require them to save a certain amount of their payment? Or let them spend freely?
And on and on. I wish I had a magic answer for you because that would give Kelly some mad traffic. I don’t have a magic answer, but I can share an idea that has worked for my family: chore cards.
Our kids have had chores since they were toddlers when they were eager to help. Then as they got older, they slacked off because chores are boring and there are infinitely more interesting things you can do besides chores (especially as teenagers). In fact, I’ve found that as teens our kids were getting by on the bare minimum. I realized it’s mostly because I didn’t give them clear expectations.
Here’s a little background on where I’m coming from — where we started and how we got to where we are now:
- I have a 15yo and a 13yo.
- They have each been doing chores since they were two (feeding and watering the cat and my son helped wash bottles for his baby sister).
- We upped the chore responsibilities every year.
- They’ve received an allowance based on chore completion since the beginning (and no, my husband and I did not agree on the amount, but it was not a hill I would die on and it’s worked out).
As you can imagine (and have likely experienced), chores were done . . . well, ‘haphazardly’ and sometimes (a lot of times) it was a war to get things done. And then I found chore cards — this was before Pinterest. A very crafty blogger shared beautiful activity cards she made for her kids so they could choose an activity if they said they were bored. Those cards were very detailed. And I had that A-HA! moment where you just know your idea is going to change the landscape of your life forever and double rainbows will be the norm. I decided I would create chore cards with a detailed list of what I expected to be completed in each room.
Why chore cards? Why not just tell the kids what I needed done? Well, when I stepped back and tried to see what the issue was I discovered that, while my kids didn’t always want to do their chores, when they did they really thought what they’d accomplished was what I was asking for. There was a disconnect. I wasn’t verbalizing what I wanted. If I said clean up the living room, they thought putting away the toys they got out was cleaning that room. They didn’t put away anything they weren’t directly responsible for leaving out. Or, at eight or ten when asked to wipe down the kitchen cabinets, they ran a wet rag over the counter in a single line because that’s where most of the crumbs were. OK, yes, I exaggerate a little, but you know what I mean. I know you’ve been there.
With chore cards I’m able to more accurately convey my expectations. Our chore cards provide a list of items I require for each room to be clean. Here’s an example of one of our current chore cards:
- Pick up and put away anything that doesn’t belong in this room, regardless of who it belongs to or who got it out.*
- Dust: piano, mantel, tables, bench, TV stand, lamps and picture frames (even the hanging pictures). Be sure to take any pictures off the piano or tables to dust the entire surface, then replace the pictures.
- Clean out between the couch cushions.
Example of Chore Card:
I made a card for each room in the house (including hallways and foyer). Then — and this part I think is crucial no matter the age — I called them in and laid out the cards. I explained that we were going back to them so we’d all be on the same page and I told them I was going to let them take turns choosing the chores. The chores they chose would then be permanently grouped together, I’d put them on a keyring, and they’d trade off every week. I reminded them that although these were the chores they’d do this week, they may want to reconsider only choosing the easy chores since they’d have the other, harder stack next week. We did a little Rock, Paper, Scissors to see who’d go first and went from there. And holy smokes, I haven’t had attitude about chores since May 31. I’m not saying it will last, but we’re having a good run and I’m going to ride that wave as long as possible.
* That bit about regardless of who it belongs to or who got it out has been a crucial part of the cards since day one.
Problems I’ve Had with Chore Cards
Chore cards haven’t always worked for us. In fact, the first time I pulled them out of my hat they didn’t work. My husband actually said, “Dude. You have to lower your standards. Even I wouldn’t do that.” So here’s what I’ve discovered:
- We introduced chore cards when the kids were too young. They could read, but I was asking too much of them. I had to modify the chore cards and come in behind them to finish up. At younger ages what I really needed to do was get them used to the idea of pitching in instead of expecting to white glove everything.
- We didn’t keep track of who did what. The biggest fuss we had every week was who did what the week before. I didn’t keep the cards together and they were getting mixed up. This time when I brought the cards out I hole-punched them and put them on keychains. My kids are teens now so they remember that one had the OSU chain and the other had the dog toy chain. I would suggest having a peg with names above and hanging the cards on those pegs, then changing them up each Sunday. (Side note: I’d like to have laminated them, but I bought the wrong kind of laminating pockets — they need a laminator and I’m lazy. You crafty types with the tools can knock yourselves out.)
- We’ve been inconsistent. Each time we’ve used the cards they’ve worked: the kids do what they need to do, they do it well, and they don’t complain. Each time we’ve gotten lax with the cards chore quality declines and sullen attitudes increase when the kids are asked to do their chores.
- We didn’t tell the kids the big picture expectations. We had a little stumbling block at first because the kids thought they just had to do the chores once a week. I had to explain it wasn’t One and Done, but an ongoing thing. They’re cool with it now.
Why Chore Cards Work
I really think the reason the whole thing works is because expectations are completely spelled out; there’s no question about what constitutes a clean room. The kids got to choose how the chores were divvied up so they feel it’s fair (and they had control over that), and it’s not me asking them to do chores every day; they know they have to adhere to the cards.
Basically it’s a lot of what parents do with toddlers or pre-school age children: I gave them choices and let them have control over the final result. Is every day a cake walk? Of course not. And things get in the way even in summer — we have sports practice, time at the pool, friends, etc. But for the most part it works out. And that’s a whole lot better than what I had before.