There are about a billion chore charts floating around the Internet. Just do a quick search on Pinterest and you will find a chart for every age child from pre-school to teen, for every conceivable method of praise, for every week or month or day. The chore chart is not a new concept and I am certainly not here to revolutionize it.
However, it is fair to say that I’ve been around the block on the chore thing. I’ve tried the point system and the "I'm bored" system. I’ve assigned chores and I’ve let the kids chose their own chores. I’ve rewarded and I’ve punished. I’ve thought about dropping the whole chore thing out of sheer exhaustion. But do you know what? I think I’ve finally figured out something that works, at least for the younger kids. And I’m going to tell you what I’ve (finally) figured out.
It is not about the chores. It is about teaching responsibility.
You knew that already, right? And not just from the title of this post. Would you mind coming over to my house and banging some dishes over my head so that I can get out of my own way?
The truth is this: a kid’s immediate response to the word “chore” is to run and hide. Not just my kids’ response, any kid’s response. I bet your response isn’t much different. But when we talk about responsibilities, things start to look up a bit. This is especially true if responsibility also comes with privilege. This may sound like a matter of semantics, but if you think about it, why are you trying to get your kids to do chores in the first place? Is it because having them clean their room is really all that helpful? Probably not. It probably takes you more time to get your kid to clean their room than it takes to clean it yourself. And it probably isn’t all that clean when they are "done".
The real reason that we give kids jobs in my house is because we are trying to teach the kids responsibility. We want them to learn to take care of their own business (and stuff). We want them to learn that helping each other is what we do in a family. We want them to learn that there are sometimes things that we have to do even if we don’t like to do them. And it takes a lot of work to teach our kids these seemingly simple ideas.
Can we be real for a moment? My older kids – who have been through every iteration of chore chart and chore process outlined above – are not going to re-characterize cleaning the bathroom from chore to responsibility. Cleaning the bathroom is still a chore. We’ve definitely got some work to do and we hope that the kids will eventually see why we have always insisted on their participation in certain household tasks. Yes, we can talk to them about responsibility and our goals for them as they grow into adulthood. They can nod their heads in understanding. But any of you who have teenagers or ever were teenagers know that this is probably wasted breath. The kids will figure it out. Maybe not until they are tripping over their own kids' shoes, but they will figure it out. Eventually.
But for the younger kids, we have a start. We created a responsibilities chart that includes a couple of things that the kids already do (brushing their teeth and feeding the dog), one thing that they needed to work on (cleaning up their toys), and a couple of new things (practicing violin/piano and making their own beds). We limited the chart to five responsibilities to make it manageable. We limited the chart to five days a week so that the kids would be successful. The kids check tasks off as they are complete so that there is constant positive feedback. At the end of each week, they check off that week and start over.
One thing that I think is really important to the success of this plan is that we don’t tell the younger kids how to do their responsibilities. We show them how to do each task and we encourage thoroughness but we don’t direct the process every time. Are their beds perfectly made? Nope. But they are proud to be taking care of their own room. Is every toy put back in its place? Nope. But we aren’t stepping on legos after they go to bed. As the kids get older, this will change. For now, I’m content not to step on marbles or trip over Barbie and to simply close the door to their room as soon as they leave for school.
Little by little, this plan feels like a success. And the kids have their own bigger goal in mind. With responsibility comes privilege. We let the kids pick their own reward for one month of being responsible. Do you know what they picked? Date night with Mom or Dad. I can’t wait for this first month to end.