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Even The Little Guy Does His Chores!

(aka how I got my sons to be active participants in the way our household runs)

First off, let me just state that I am NOT Supermom.  My kids have tantrums, all my ideas don’t necessarily work – all the time, and I have been known to yell from time to time (like today).  However, I have found ways to get my children to happily participate in the way our household runs.  “Chores” is not a bad word in our house.

My biggest suggestion to bringing kids on board to helping out with the daily work is to START EARLY.  As soon as my son could reach the top of the counter, he was clearing his dishes off the table.  At three, he makes his bed (okay, not the way *I* like for it to be made, but the point is that he makes it), he sets the table for dinner each night, and he takes our recyclable items to the recycle bin.  On weekends, he is the paper-getter and retrieves the newspaper from the driveway.  These are not new jobs for him; he has been doing them for a while.  They are habits we have instilled in him from a young age.  It makes clear the expectation of participation in the way the house runs.

It is important to stay on top of children with their chores.  Consistency is extremely crucial.  If children realize that they don’t HAVE to do a particular task on a given day, they will push for that result over and over again.  My boys know that their chores are done each day (or every other day, depending on the chore), and we even practice them to some degree when we are away from home.  For instance, if we are visiting relatives, my children automatically make up their beds or roll up their sleeping bags in the morning.  It is expected at home, and it is expected when we’re away.

An important part of bringing children on board with chores is to make it a positive experience for them.  My boys keep a chart – a simple list of each of their chores for each day.  I have a packet of incentive stickers hanging next to the chart on the refrigerator, and they mark off their duties each day with a sticker.  After a certain number of stickers, they can “cash them in” on a special treat, such as a “date” with mom or a special dinner request.  While I do not agree with paying children to complete chores, I also understand the need for recognition and reward.  We use lots of positive verbal reinforcement.  I do not ever criticize the way my nine year-old wipes down the table or the way the three year-old only fills our dinner glasses about 1/4 full.  As long as they are doing their best, that is what I want to see.

Be sure and start small.  My boys didn’t start with four or five chores; we started with one or two.  They were simple, easy to complete tasks that were quick to complete and provided almost immediate feedback, such as taking out the recycling or putting dishes in the sink.  After a time, my husband and I felt they were ready for another chore and worked to incorporate it into our daily plan. 

Make it a cooperative effort.  My children know that I am doing my job, just as they are doing theirs.  I’m cleaning the dishes, my three year-old is bringing me the dinnerware, and my nine year-old is wiping down the tables.  My husband is busy sweeping the floor.  At recycle time, I wash out the items to be recycled and my younger son takes them to the bin.  On trash morning, my older son brings the smaller trash cans from the rooms to our main trash can and my husband gathers it for the curb.  No one does a chore alone – we are all in it together.

The biggest key to making chores work is constant praise.  I make a point to let my boys know how helpful they are and how appreciative I am of their efforts.  Criticism is kept to a minimum.  Pointing out what is wrong with what the children are doing will only make it that much less “fun” for them.  Getting the right kind of attention (positive attention) will only lead to the desire to repeat it again.

We still have days where one boy might whine about carrying out a chore or complain a bit about it, but that is to be expected.  We handle those moods in a positive and calm way, yet the boys know it is still expected and do it anyway.  Besides, we usually have a good time doing them together, and working together is the best lesson of all.

The Power Of Empowerment

With our second child, we learned early on that in order for him to be successful, he needed to be in charge, or in charge as much as we could let him.  Letting children make their own decisions gives them ownership of the situation and can help them learn to behave well.

First of all, make sure that children are allowed to make choices.  However, as a parent, you can control the types of choices the child will make.  For instance, it is bathtime and my child IS going to take a bath, but I give him the choice of a bath in his tub or a bath in mine.  His choice, but it is the outcome that I desire (a clean kid!).  Or, we are getting ready to go to the store.  I may give my child a choice of two kinds of shoes to wear.  He is going to wear shoes, but I allow him to choose which ones he wants.

Giving choices is a good way to work with potential misbehaviors.  When my boys are getting overly rough, I give them a choice.  For example, stop throwing the ball in the house or the ball will have to be put away for a while.  My child then has the choice of rolling the ball (an acceptable behavior here) or no ball at all. 

Oftentimes, giving choices is a great way to get children to cooperate, even when it is something they initially do not want to do.  Instead of the battle of bedtime (and actually getting into bed), I give my son a choice of two or three books to read in bed before lights out.  He is getting in bed, but he gets to decide what we will do when we are there.  And, if he chooses all the books?  That’s okay, too…he is in bed, and that is the ultimate goal.

There are times, though, that my child will try to make a choice other than those that are given.  In cases such as this, the best thing to do is to let the child know what the choices are again.  I have been known to sound a bit like a broken record, but eventually my child will make a choice that is one of the options given.

Allowing your child to solve his or her own problems through making good choices is a wonderful way to parent with limits.  It gives freedom with structure, which is vital to providing a sense of security and confidence in children.

Incentive Charts

Last week, I mentioned monitoring my child’s progress through an incentive chart to achieve a certain goal – staying in bed for my older son and potty training with my younger one.  Incentive charts can be a useful tool for teaching a child a new skill or desired repeatable behavior, from picking up toys to folding clothes to clearing the table without being asked.  The key is consistency.

Charts are fairly simple to make.  With my boys, I created a simple grid for each of them.  The “title” of the grid was simply the desired behavior, such as staying in bed all night.  Then, I created a grid of ten rows, five columns.  Our charts hung on the side of the refrigerator, right at my son’s eye level.  This way, each child was able to view his chart and participate by putting a sticker in a box each time a the behavior was met.

Each time my son met his goal, he was given a sticker to place on his chart.  By the time he filled a row (in this case, five days), he was rewarded with a simple incentive.  Sometimes, it was a special trip to the Dollar Store.  Other times, it was a special playdate or an outing to the bowling alley or movie theater.  There was always a reward at the end of the “row”, though. 

In the beginning, it took my son well over a week to get his five stickers.  That was okay, though, because once he reached his fifth sticker, he was very excited to get his reward!  And, when he realized how simple it was to achieve that again, the desired behavior showed up more and more frequently, quickly becoming a natural habit.

When we finally filled the chart, we came up with a special reward.  In my son’s case, it was a sleepover at his grandparents’ house.  At the time, he had never been to their house to spend the night without my husband or I, so this was a GREAT reward for him.  And, by the time he reached that goal, sleeping in his own bed through the night was no longer an issue.

Using an incentive chart can work very well for children.  Keep in mind, though, that the focus should only be on one behavior at a time.  Trying to run two or more incentive charts for a child at a time can be overwhelming and confusing.  Once a behavior is mastered, then introduce a new one.  And, once a child finishes an incentive chart, move on to simply verbally praising him or her for their new skill.

Incentive charts are a great way to achieve a goal for a child!

At The End Of The Rope

I cherish the time I spend with my children, especially my older son.  During the school year, he spends the majority of his waking hours at school with another adult and other children.  So, our time together is all the more special.  During the summer, though, when we’re together ALL THE TIME, we have to adjust.  Oftentimes I find myself on the short end of the temper-stick.  Here are some things I do to keep my cool during the heat of the summer:

  • Count down from 10 – this is probably my most effective method of keeping calm.  I usually count down in my head, although the few times I have done it out loud, my kids are amazingly well-behaved by the time I get close to one.  It simply gives me a few seconds to refocus and remember to keep my cool.
  • Give myself a time out – when I can feel the tension or anger building up, I tell my children, “Mommy’s feeling (angry, upset, hurt, mad, etc), so I’m going to cool down with a time-out.”  With my younger child, I’ll simply move to a quiet area of the room.  With my older child, though, I may leave to go to a different room or ask that he find a different place to wait for me while I cool off.  The key is, though, to talk about whatever it was that made me angry or upset to begin with.  Simply removing myself and cooling off isn’t enough.  Children need to understand the process of discussion and understanding.
  • Opposites – this is quite possibly the most effective tool I’ve used with my younger child.  When I am feeling angry or upset and the urge to yell is overwhelming, I whisper.  My son is completely caught off-guard and will stop whatever it is he is doing to figure out why Mommy is suddenly quiet!  And, it calms myself down to talk in a quiet voice instead of yelling.

There are other ways to vent anger that are productive.  Listen to some music, take a walk or get some exercise another way, keep a journal of your feelings, call a friend or even cleaning the house are great ways to channel aggessive energy into something productive.  The key is, though, to discuss your feelings and the way you handled them with your child after you have calmed down.  Children learn by example, so set a good one for them.

What Did You Say?

Do you ever have that feeling that no one is listening to you?  That feeling usually happens for me when I say magical phrases like, “pick up your toys” or “brush your teeth”.  Good listening skills are not something we are all born with; they are an acquired skill.  Here are several ways to teach your child to be a good listener:

  1. Get your child’s attention: this can be a simple touch, saying their name or even lowering yourself to their eye level to make sure they are looking and listening.
  2. State and repeat: after you ask or state something to your child, have him or her say it back to you.  It doesn’t have to be word-for-word, just make sure they understood what you said to them.
  3. Be a good listener yourself: children are constantly watching and modeling us.  If a child is talking to you, stop and listen.  Look them in the eye, and after they finish, repeat what they said to you.  It shows the child that you were listening and understood what they said.
  4. Attitude is everything: if a child is upset, they are not going be using good listening skills.  Calm a child down first, then talk to them.
  5. Note the successes: when a child listens to directions and follows them, be sure to let them know that you noticed!  Praising a child for good listening will only encourage them to do it again (and again and again!).
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