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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.

Blue And Goldie – Our Hermit Crab Pals

A couple of months ago, my older son turned 8.  We have been dogless for about 18 months, and he was really missing the whole pet realm.  While we weren’t really ready to dive back into canine-world (give me some time – I just finished landscaping the back yard), we did decide that he was old enough to have his own pet.  And thus began our journey into hermit crab-world.

We started by purchasing the Hermit Crab Cove by Uncle Milton.  It was perfect.  The kit comes with everything you need to get started with your hermit crabs, including a detailed handbook that tells you pretty much anything you ever wanted to know about raising hermit crabs, and it does it in an easy-to-understand way, perfect for young pet owners.  There is even an order form to purchase your hermit crabs through the mail.  (Note: the company will only ship your pet(s) if the climate it mild enough, so keep that in mind.  Their prices are VERY reasonable, but being in Texas, we went to our local pet store for our hermit crabs and spent the extra money as the mail order ones probably wouldn’t ship until November!)

Since that first day, my son has shown that taking care of a pet (or two in this case) is something he is VERY capable of doing, and doing well.  He feeds them every day, checks their water, cleans their cove at least once a week, and he takes them out for exercise every few days.  Blue (in the blue shell) and Goldie (in the black and gold shell) both have quite distinctive personalities.  Goldie is definitely the more active and sociable one, while Blue is the strategist, always trying to crawl out of wherever he is.  Blue is also sometimes called Brownie when he switches shells for the brown shell, which he does about once a week. 

Hermit crabs are an excellent choice for a beginning pet for a young child.  They are simple to care for, interesting to watch, and do not take up much room.  There are some simple rules to abide by when caring for them to avoid hurting them or getting a surprise little pinch from them, but they are quite social and can encourage children to take pride in pet ownership.  Both of my boys (ages 8 and 3) are eager to care for Blue and Goldie, and they both are capable of feeding, watering and caring for the crabs.

While my boys are still interested in having a dog someday, they are quite content with the hermit crabs they have now.  I know we will most likely be dog-owners again in the future, but for now, a hermit crab is the perfect choice for my boys.

Can I Keep Him?

It was the first thing out of my 8 year-old’s mouth when he came running up the sidewalk from a friend’s house last week.  And, tagging along behind him, was a rangy mutt, all of about fifteen pounds, panting and frothing and desperately trying to keep up. 

What is it with kids and pets?  I should have just named both my boys “Noah” as they need two of every animal they meet.  BK (before kids), we had two adorable pups, a basset hound and a beagle-mutt.  They were our children until the “others” came along.  Unfortunately, they were then relegated to the role of “dog”, but they played their parts well, fixing a spot in my older son’s heart full of their affection and love.  However, they were old, and eventually we found ourselves pet-less (and ready to landscape a back yard!).  This would not do for my older son, and he quickly enlisted the help of his little brother to plead his case.

We started slow with the standard betta-in-a-vase-with-a-plant-on-top set up.  It was good; my son could easily see it and watch it, and maintenance was about as consuming as pruning the bushes outside.  We loved our betta.  We loved it so much that my sister-in-law thought a larger set up was necessary.  So, for Christmas one year, my older son received a ten-gallon tank and a gift certificate for some fishies.  And an addiction was born.

It is important to know (as we found out quickly) that caring for a tropical fish tank isn’t difficult, but it is certainly a bit more involved than our betta outfit.   And when you don’t have the water right, be prepared for several “burials at sea” (or at least a shove in that direction via the commode) and the added expense of finding new finned friends.  However, you don’t have to walk a fish, and you can get those handy weekend feeders for time away from home.  We fell into a fish routine, named them and enjoyed them. 

And then came the land creatures.

For my older son’s birthday this year, he desperately wanted a new pet.  Initially, it was a kitten or a puppy, but we still aren’t at a place where we are ready to take on that responsibility (read: we’re still landscaping the back yard and don’t need any four-legged helpers).  So, he took notes from his pals, perused several pet stores and thankfully did NOT settle his mind on getting a rat or an iguana (not that there’s anything wrong with those.  Okay, there would be something wrong with them if they tried to live at my house, but in general…).  He did, however, beg and plead of a hermit crab.  So, a hermit crab it would be.

We actually got him the Hermit Crab Cove, and he loves it.  Understand, though, that even if they are called “hermit” crabs, they do enjoy the company of other crabs.  So, we got two.  And two extra shells.  And some smelly food.  And special spring water.  Again, the maintenance was a bit more, but hey, they stay in the “cove” unless we take them out, they eat their shedded exoskeletons (my kind of pet!  They clean up after themselves!), and there’s not any real clean up involved.  Score one for us!  But, alas, it wasn’t enough.

We now also have two bettas that my son got from a friend at his birthday party that reside on the shelf above the hermit crabs (we’ll be building the ark next week, I’m sure).  No plant to complete the life cycle this time, so we’re changing out water and feeding them unlike our earlier betta.  And, we got the COOLEST ant farm by Antworks on the market.  It is illuminated gel and totally fascinating.  I never thought I would voluntarily allow ants to live in my house, but here we are, with 23 of those six-legged creatures residing on my kitchen counter.  Yes, the things we do for our children.

We didn’t keep the mutt, by the way, as I recognized him from a neighboring yard, but my son is okay with that.  He has a new friend to visit, and realizes his own pet parade is big enough – for now.

The First Days Of School – Setting The Tone For The Rest Of The Year

Going back to school, no matter what the age, can be an emotional time for children, parents and teachers.  It marks the beginning of another year of learning.  The rules and standards you set the first week of school can help your child be more successful for the rest of the year.  Here are some ideas on how to make the transition back to school easier for everyone!


  • COUNTDOWN!  If you still have several days to go until the first day of school, make a countdown calendar.  Cross off each day before the first day, or make a tear-off style calendar, tearing off a number as you count down to the day school begins.
  • Early to bed, early to rise.  Unless your child is a living alarm clock like mine, it is best to start the early wake-up time before the actual first day.  Children need at least a week to readjust their sleep habits so they can be alert and ready to learn when they walk into school that first day.
  • Take an early tour.  If your child’s school offers a “back to school” night prior to the first day, take advantage and go walk the halls with your child.  If not, call the school and see if there is some time you can go up to the school and have a look around, even if it is just to see the cafeteria and gym.

And, during that first week, here are some habits to establish early to aid in a successful year:

  • SCHEDULES:  Create a time during the day for homework.  Even if your child doesn’t have “homework”, this can be a great time to work on independent reading.  Our routine in our house is to have a 15 minute break after school (for snacks and talking about our day) and then homework time before dinner.  Dinnertime and beyond is our family time, so we try to knock homework out early!
  • Communicate with the teacher:  As a former public school teacher, I cannot emphasize enough how much of an impact it made on my relationship with a child when I developed a relationship with the parent.  Remember that the teacher has 17-24 other parents as well.  Be respectful of his/her time, but make an effort to introduce yourself early and make yourself available if he/she needs to talk with you.  And, let the teacher know how much you appreciate them.  Teachers rarely hear that!
  • Set up a few chores.  If your child is not already helping out around the house, adding this to the routine during the school year is a perfect time to do so.  It instills a feeling of family and community; the child is helping contribute to the well-being of the family.  Just make sure that the chore or chores aren’t too overwhelming; taking the recycling out to the bin or setting the table for dinner are great, easy chores for children of any age.
  • The debriefing.  From Day One, make sure you spend some time with your child, reviewing their day.  “How was your day” is not good enough.  With my older son, we have a game we play as we walk home from school.  I challenge him each day to tell me three good things that happened to him at school that day before we get home.  More often than not, this also opens the door to things that bothered him, scared him, or confused him.  And, by the time we make it home, he’s really talking.  His response is always far better than the typical “Fine” response.  When his days aren’t so great, he feels very comfortable telling me about it.
  • Preparation.  If possible, have everything ready the night before – clothes laid out, lunch made/lunch money packed in backpack, homework done and ready to go back to school.  This will make the morning routine much easier on everyone.  Don’t forget to stick a note in your child’s belongings – a pants pocket, in the backpack, on the lunch napkin.  That little note will go a long way in helping your child feel comfortable throughout the day.
  • Reward yourselves.  When the first week draws to a close, try to plan something a bit more personal for your children: a special dinner, a short outing, a family night, a movie.  And let them know that they’ve had a great week and you are looking forward to many more!
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