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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.

Bedtime Routines

Wash.  Rinse.  Repeat.  It is the same thing just about every night at our house.  Oh sure, every now and then we have company or we’re out of town (or something like that), but for the most part, the boys’ bedtime routine stays the same. 

We realized early on how much our older child thrived on routine.  He was constantly asking us what we would do next, what our agenda was for the day, what we had planned for the week.  He has worn a watch from a very early age, constantly checking times and schedules.  He was (and still is) up at the same time every day, no matter what the day, week or month.

Our younger son is definitely a “freer spirit”.  He is happy to get up at 6:15 or sleep in until 9.  He goes with the flow, excited with each new adventure and surprise and ready for whatever comes around the corner.  But, even with his less rigid personality, he thrives on routine.  Most children do.

Our bedtime routine starts pretty much every evening about an hour before “lights out” time.  Sometimes our schedule makes this impossible, but we try to adhere to the same schedule every night.  We begin with a bath or shower for the boys, then they climb into their pajamas and brush their teeth. 

Most of the remaining time we spend either playing a quiet game or reading a story.  The television isn’t on, and it is time to quiet down as a family and spend some time together.  About fifteen minutes before the lights are turned off, the boys climb into bed and say their prayers.  We spend our last few minutes singing songs and engaging in a few “mommy and daddy kisses”.  Bellies are covered with raspberry smooches and tickle spots are discovered.  Then, with a final hug and kiss, the lights are turned out and a soft, quiet peace fills the house.

Now, I’m definitely not going to say that the boys NEVER get out of bed (because sometimes they do) and they don’t bicker or cut up after the lights are out.  They are boys.  They are brothers.  And they aren’t always perfect.  But, I do feel strongly that keeping a routine at bedtime makes it, well, ROUTINE.  There are no questions asked about what happens next or why bedtime is here already.  Because it is the same thing, night after night, the boys KNOW this is the way it is.

So, what works for you and your family?  Please leave a comment on your bedtime routines (or non-routines) and let us know!

Finding Rest For The Weary

Once again, our calendar for the fall overfloweth.  And, that’s just with my older son.  Cub Scouts, our mid-week ministry at our church, piano lessons, baseball practice and games…and that’s not even touching homework and chores.  Throw into the mix my husband’s frequent business trips, my younger son’s preschool and gymnastics schedule, and my insane world of three jobs, a bunko group, church choir, and teaching a parenting class at our church, and you have the makings for a bit of stress.

While there isn’t a whole lot we can do about it now, there is something we can do in the future.  That is, we can plan our rest.  Now, that might seem silly, but being the overplanner I am, it is necessary.  And, it is VERY easy to do. 

Our schedule is posted on the refrigerator.  I have a monthly calendar that puts each person on their own column, and at a glance I can see who needs to be where and when.  I know of others who use different colored pens on their calendars to denote each person’s events.  There are tons of ways to organize your family’s busy schedule.

To plan a “rest” for my family, I take a dark pencil (and always in pencil because, while I don’t like to eliminate our rest time, sometimes things happen and you have to make changes) and I shade in whatever day will be our rest days.  This fall, our “rest” is on Fridays after school. That’s our family time, our down time.  Last Spring, our “rest” was on Tuesdays.  It can vary, you can take more than one day, but the important thing is to take it.  Make it a point not to schedule meetings or playdates or anything on those days.

That doesn’t mean you don’t do ANYTHING.  Sometimes, we go to our nearby zoo.  Other times, we piddle around the house or head to a local park.  The point is to spend time together and not running back and forth to one event or another.

I hope your family finds lots of time to rest when things get crazy, whether you have to schedule it or not.  If you can’t enjoy each other, then what is all of it for?

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