Keeping ahead of the chaos

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse  August 10, 2009 10:54 AM

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It's hard enough to get going some mornings; trying to ride herd on a bunch of kids with different needs and routines can make it feel nearly impossible. Even if you have only one child to check up on, and even if your mornings are a piece of cake, there's still homework, projects, extra curricular activities, household chores, and bedtime to consider.

Ideally, you want your kids to eventually take responsibility for these things themselves, but until then, how do you stay on top of it all?

There are many products and systems out there to help parents keep their kids organized, which is great, because no single system will work for every child. Case in point: My oldest girls are pretty independent when it comes to homework and chores; my 11-year-old, who has Asperger's, used to need a reminder for nearly every step of every routine; my youngest kids, who are 4 and 2, need to have their routines modified so that they can focus only on the parts they're capable of doing themselves.

The goal isn't just to have a bunch of tasks completed each day; you want the work to get done, of course, but you want to foster good habits and encourage independence and self-reliance at the same time.

So, what motivates kids to get their chores done? In the long run, nagging doesn't work -- kids just learn to tune you out, or get the job done as quickly as possible in order to get you to stop talking. Rewards are great motivators, but it's too easy for them to devolve into bribes, or for kids to demand bigger rewards for less work. Treats are fine until you notice that your child has set the dinner table but is too full of Gummi Bears to eat dinner. (Not that I'd know anything about that. Really.)

Here are a few options: a gadget, a free download, and a do-it-yourself system.


On_Task_On_Time.jpg
On Task On Time for Kids helps children with their daily routines -- morning, noon, and night -- by turning boring, repetitive tasks into a fun, beat-the-clock-type game. Completing the daily chores becomes a source of self-esteem, instead of a battle of wills, and the easy-to-use system works well for even very young children, since you can adjust the amount of time allotted for each task.

Moschel Kadokura, CEO of Timely Matters, created On Task On Time when her triplets were 5 years old and she realized she needed help getting the off to school in the mornings. Her system is made up of a large, color-coded timer (it's big enough that it won't get lost, and kids can carry it from task to task if they need to) with a built-in dry erase board for notes, a reward chart, and several customizable disks. Reusable stickers are placed at intervals along the disks, designating each task and the amount of time in which to complete it. The stickers are illustrated, with labels and icons for everything from brushing teeth to picking up toys to doing homework, and there are several blank stickers so you can assign whatever chores or tasks are needed in your household. The goal is to get each task done, of course. The bonus is that kids learn good habits and gain a sense of independence and self-sufficiency along the way.

handipoints.jpg
HandiPoints uses specialized charts to help kids stay on track with things like homework, housework, and hygiene; kids earn points for completing tasks and doing worksheets, and the points can be used to buy rewards and play games at HandiPoint's virtual world online. Parents are also able to assign consequences for not finishing a given task, and can designate rewards beyond the point system as well. The charts are free and easily customizable, and the site also offers a great resource in their MommyPoints blog, written Chris Jordan, a mom of seven who really knows her stuff (she also blogs at Ordering Disorder and Notes from the Trenches, among other places).

chore%20pockets.jpg
Chore Pockets. This is more of a crafty, do-it-yourself proposition, but it's very flexible, infinitely adaptable, and works well for younger kids. The idea comes from Diann Jeppson’s Chore Pocket system, which is described in A Thomas Jefferson Education Home Companion, and my favorite example of it comes from Jessica at Balancing Everything (that's her photo, above). The basic idea is this: You create separate pockets for each area in your home, plus a pocket for each member of the family. (No sewing skills? Use envelopes for the pockets). Write up (or print out) small cards describing each chore that needs to be done in each area, and file them in the appropriate areas' pockets.

Decide which chores need to be done daily, weekly, or intermittently, and start divvying up the cards; chores that don't need to be done right away stay in their area's pocket. Assign chores by slipping cards into each family member's pocket -- think of it as an inbox. When the chore is completed, you move the card back to the pocket for the area in which it belongs. You can let kids choose their own chores, if you like, and you can assign different values to the chores so that kids earn rewards (or praise) more quickly by doing harder tasks.

How do you deal with chores and homework in your household?

Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at lalphonse@globe.com.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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9 comments so far...
  1. I don't see what the big deal is. My kids are 9 and 7. They don't have tons of chores, but there's no bribing or fancy doodads to get them to do them, either. In the morning, they are responsible for getting dressed, feeding themselves breakfast, brushing teeth, and getting their backpacks ready for school/camp/whatever. Once they are both ready to walk out the door, they may watch TV until it's time to go. Afternoon chores include setting the table (quick reminder that it's time, as the time varies from day to day) and clearing the table. I occasionally ask them to assist with other chores, such as folding laundry, unloading the dishwasher, etc. I don't bribe, it's just the expectation that as part of the family, you pitch in when asked. They are also expected to keep their things picked up, and just need the occasional gentle reminder.

    Posted by akmom August 10, 09 02:51 PM
  1. I'd like to add a little twist to this question. I'm a divorced mom of an only child (he just turned 10). My ex and I share custody, so my son is with each of us about half of the week. My son is a reasonably helpful kid, but I find that having him only half of the time makes it infinitely more difficult to implement consistent responsibilities that are enforceable. He's pretty good about getting his act together in the morning, but I find it much more difficult to assign larger tasks to him. He's at an age where it's appropriate to have him do things like cut the lawn, but he's in the unfortunate position of living in TWO households in which he's likely to be asked to cut the lawn, help with the laundry, etc. He can (and occasionally does) argue that it's 'not fair' for him to have major chore responsibilities in both houses, and I have a hard time disagreeing with him. As he gets older, I see this becoming more and more of a problem.

    Any feedback on how to give my son consistent responsibilities at our home while not making him feel like he's doubly responsible for chores because he has two homes would be greatly appreciated.

    Posted by CMF August 10, 09 03:35 PM
  1. CMF, perhaps you and your ex can work out a chore schedule by days of the week? My husband sometimes thinks it's unfair that I expect his daughter, who is 11, to do the same chores as we expect my son (also 11) to do when she's here because "it's not her house." But the reality is that when she's not at her mom's house, she's not doing chores that would otherwise be expected of her there on those days so to me, it all balances out. In our situation, it helps that her mom lives in a condo and she doesn't have the opportunity to mow the lawn or shovel snow or vacuum the pool, so she pitches in and does those things at our house because a) this is what we do on weekends, when she happens to be here and b) these are things that she should know how to do.

    Anyhow - I think perhaps that it would be a good idea to coordinate heavy chores (mopping floors, mowing the lawn, bigger projects) between both households so that your son doesn't feel like everyone's chore boy - if Saturday is mow-the-lawn day at both houses, then he should only have to mow the lawn at whatever house he is in on Saturday. Things like making the bed, folding laundry, setting the table, helping with meals, swishing and swiping the bathroom are reasonable things that people do every day so he should be expected to do those every day regardless of which house he is in.

    Posted by Jen August 10, 09 04:26 PM
  1. Initially I set up a pay-as-you-go system for the girls, then ages 4 and 7. Small (very small) change for every chore you can think of, really just to get them used to the idea of chores are "worth doing". It became a contest to see who could earn the most money/points every week. Now we give a small amount of weekly allowance ($1) for: making bed, keeping room tidy, putting away clothes (clean and dirty), and cleaning up table after meals. It's worked beautifully. We have two very helpful children with a good grasp of basic economics.

    Posted by Alquimista August 10, 09 04:34 PM
  1. I do not think doing chores around the house is all that important for a kid. Just so long as he can take care of himself, its fine with me. For instance, I do not think that it is a good idea for a parent to be supervising homework every day. It makes your kid more dependent on you and adds more pressure to your routine. Just get online with the great homework help on sites like aafter.com and your job is done.
    I follow the time established routine- no chores till the kids are five and then a bit of responsibility with every passing year.

    Posted by Paula August 11, 09 01:37 AM
  1. There was a similar discussion back in February on children having difficulty getting themselves ready for school with similar statements such as that from akmom implying that since it isn't a problem with THEIR kids they don't understand why other parents would be finding this difficult. It IS a big deal for some parents. I, for one, have a son who has the attention span of a goldfish and if I don't keep 100% on top of him, chores go undone, showers take 30 minutes (and he forgets to actually wash) and breakfast if forgotten while his attention is diverted to creating a projectile out of duct tape and barbeque skewers. It's really hard to keep such focus on one child while you are trying to get your own work done and supervise other children too. I am a firm believer in everyone doing their share and kids learning household skills and moving toward independence thus I nag a lot rather than just do the chores for them. I'd like to move away from nagging and the timer (when I can find it) is a useful device. There is also a lack of consistency in that my husband can never seem to remember that we have agreed on what chores should be done when and I'll come home to find the kids watching TV with the dishwasher full of clean dishes, lunch boxes still full of old food and dirty clothes on the floor.

    Posted by Cordelia August 11, 09 10:33 AM
  1. Wow.

    I'm with you, akmom, what is with all these elaborate systems, bribes, arguing with the child over what's right or fair, etc.? (though I will concede that a child living in two households is a more complicated situation)

    Posted by ava August 11, 09 09:34 PM
  1. Wow akmom. It's not a big deal to you because your kids don't do anything. They'll probably end up like my roommate, who never cleans up after herself and expects others to set things up for her, like connecting the cable and organizing shared spaces. If all your kids do is set the table and get dressed/ eat in the morning they aren't really learning responsibility, or what it takes to run a normal household.

    Posted by Marie August 12, 09 01:43 PM
  1. My kids don't do anything, Marie?? I didn't feel compelled to list every last responsibility they have, but since you are being so judgemental:

    They both keep their rooms tidy, and pick up their stuff downstairs. They also both put away clean laundry, and help with folding when I have the time and patience to help them do it properly.
    The seven year old sets the table for dinner and empties the dishwasher of clean dishes when needed.
    The nine year old clears the table after dinner every night, including putting away food, and brings up the trash/recycling barrels up. He also helps with raking leaves and shoveling snow.

    Each kid will get an additional chore when school starts this fall. I don't think that a seven or nine year old needs to know everything about running a household, but they certainly will by the time they are in college. Oh, and by the way, they both know how to cook, use hammers and other hand tools, and are learning tasks like sewing on buttons.

    To the mom who feels the need to nag - have you tried giving your child a task with a time limit, and spelling out up front a consequence if the task is not completed? And then following through if he or she doesn't do the task? Nagging doesn't teach a child to do stuff on their own.

    Posted by akmom August 15, 09 12:23 PM
 
9 comments so far...
  1. I don't see what the big deal is. My kids are 9 and 7. They don't have tons of chores, but there's no bribing or fancy doodads to get them to do them, either. In the morning, they are responsible for getting dressed, feeding themselves breakfast, brushing teeth, and getting their backpacks ready for school/camp/whatever. Once they are both ready to walk out the door, they may watch TV until it's time to go. Afternoon chores include setting the table (quick reminder that it's time, as the time varies from day to day) and clearing the table. I occasionally ask them to assist with other chores, such as folding laundry, unloading the dishwasher, etc. I don't bribe, it's just the expectation that as part of the family, you pitch in when asked. They are also expected to keep their things picked up, and just need the occasional gentle reminder.

    Posted by akmom August 10, 09 02:51 PM
  1. I'd like to add a little twist to this question. I'm a divorced mom of an only child (he just turned 10). My ex and I share custody, so my son is with each of us about half of the week. My son is a reasonably helpful kid, but I find that having him only half of the time makes it infinitely more difficult to implement consistent responsibilities that are enforceable. He's pretty good about getting his act together in the morning, but I find it much more difficult to assign larger tasks to him. He's at an age where it's appropriate to have him do things like cut the lawn, but he's in the unfortunate position of living in TWO households in which he's likely to be asked to cut the lawn, help with the laundry, etc. He can (and occasionally does) argue that it's 'not fair' for him to have major chore responsibilities in both houses, and I have a hard time disagreeing with him. As he gets older, I see this becoming more and more of a problem.

    Any feedback on how to give my son consistent responsibilities at our home while not making him feel like he's doubly responsible for chores because he has two homes would be greatly appreciated.

    Posted by CMF August 10, 09 03:35 PM
  1. CMF, perhaps you and your ex can work out a chore schedule by days of the week? My husband sometimes thinks it's unfair that I expect his daughter, who is 11, to do the same chores as we expect my son (also 11) to do when she's here because "it's not her house." But the reality is that when she's not at her mom's house, she's not doing chores that would otherwise be expected of her there on those days so to me, it all balances out. In our situation, it helps that her mom lives in a condo and she doesn't have the opportunity to mow the lawn or shovel snow or vacuum the pool, so she pitches in and does those things at our house because a) this is what we do on weekends, when she happens to be here and b) these are things that she should know how to do.

    Anyhow - I think perhaps that it would be a good idea to coordinate heavy chores (mopping floors, mowing the lawn, bigger projects) between both households so that your son doesn't feel like everyone's chore boy - if Saturday is mow-the-lawn day at both houses, then he should only have to mow the lawn at whatever house he is in on Saturday. Things like making the bed, folding laundry, setting the table, helping with meals, swishing and swiping the bathroom are reasonable things that people do every day so he should be expected to do those every day regardless of which house he is in.

    Posted by Jen August 10, 09 04:26 PM
  1. Initially I set up a pay-as-you-go system for the girls, then ages 4 and 7. Small (very small) change for every chore you can think of, really just to get them used to the idea of chores are "worth doing". It became a contest to see who could earn the most money/points every week. Now we give a small amount of weekly allowance ($1) for: making bed, keeping room tidy, putting away clothes (clean and dirty), and cleaning up table after meals. It's worked beautifully. We have two very helpful children with a good grasp of basic economics.

    Posted by Alquimista August 10, 09 04:34 PM
  1. I do not think doing chores around the house is all that important for a kid. Just so long as he can take care of himself, its fine with me. For instance, I do not think that it is a good idea for a parent to be supervising homework every day. It makes your kid more dependent on you and adds more pressure to your routine. Just get online with the great homework help on sites like aafter.com and your job is done.
    I follow the time established routine- no chores till the kids are five and then a bit of responsibility with every passing year.

    Posted by Paula August 11, 09 01:37 AM
  1. There was a similar discussion back in February on children having difficulty getting themselves ready for school with similar statements such as that from akmom implying that since it isn't a problem with THEIR kids they don't understand why other parents would be finding this difficult. It IS a big deal for some parents. I, for one, have a son who has the attention span of a goldfish and if I don't keep 100% on top of him, chores go undone, showers take 30 minutes (and he forgets to actually wash) and breakfast if forgotten while his attention is diverted to creating a projectile out of duct tape and barbeque skewers. It's really hard to keep such focus on one child while you are trying to get your own work done and supervise other children too. I am a firm believer in everyone doing their share and kids learning household skills and moving toward independence thus I nag a lot rather than just do the chores for them. I'd like to move away from nagging and the timer (when I can find it) is a useful device. There is also a lack of consistency in that my husband can never seem to remember that we have agreed on what chores should be done when and I'll come home to find the kids watching TV with the dishwasher full of clean dishes, lunch boxes still full of old food and dirty clothes on the floor.

    Posted by Cordelia August 11, 09 10:33 AM
  1. Wow.

    I'm with you, akmom, what is with all these elaborate systems, bribes, arguing with the child over what's right or fair, etc.? (though I will concede that a child living in two households is a more complicated situation)

    Posted by ava August 11, 09 09:34 PM
  1. Wow akmom. It's not a big deal to you because your kids don't do anything. They'll probably end up like my roommate, who never cleans up after herself and expects others to set things up for her, like connecting the cable and organizing shared spaces. If all your kids do is set the table and get dressed/ eat in the morning they aren't really learning responsibility, or what it takes to run a normal household.

    Posted by Marie August 12, 09 01:43 PM
  1. My kids don't do anything, Marie?? I didn't feel compelled to list every last responsibility they have, but since you are being so judgemental:

    They both keep their rooms tidy, and pick up their stuff downstairs. They also both put away clean laundry, and help with folding when I have the time and patience to help them do it properly.
    The seven year old sets the table for dinner and empties the dishwasher of clean dishes when needed.
    The nine year old clears the table after dinner every night, including putting away food, and brings up the trash/recycling barrels up. He also helps with raking leaves and shoveling snow.

    Each kid will get an additional chore when school starts this fall. I don't think that a seven or nine year old needs to know everything about running a household, but they certainly will by the time they are in college. Oh, and by the way, they both know how to cook, use hammers and other hand tools, and are learning tasks like sewing on buttons.

    To the mom who feels the need to nag - have you tried giving your child a task with a time limit, and spelling out up front a consequence if the task is not completed? And then following through if he or she doesn't do the task? Nagging doesn't teach a child to do stuff on their own.

    Posted by akmom August 15, 09 12:23 PM
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