Friday, August 14, 2009

Getting kids to do their chores (including homework!) on time

This morning, I wished I had done a better job teaching my kids to get ready on their own. I had to keep reminding my tween boy to put on his socks and shoes. My 4-year-old skipped downstairs and nearly went out the door wearing peach plaid shorts a size too small, which she paired with a magenta tie-dyed shirt. My oldest girl wasn't feeling well, and my youngest was full of energy -- given that he's 2-years-old, that meant he was harder to wrangle, not easier.

But 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, I'm asking my readers at Child Caring: 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 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 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 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. 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


Unknown said...

You need a new job.

Obviously you don't get the point of Mr. Oboma's speech. It's not what's in the speech but what isn't in it (and possibly what changed with all the "hoopla).

Yes, I compare him to Hitler. What's the difference? He wants to "own" all of us.

And people like you are just fueling him to make it happen.

LMAlphonse said...

Hi, Mycaramel,

I've copied this comment to the appropriate post, since I'm pretty sure you're talking about the president's speech today and not chore carts. You can follow up here:

Smiley Chores said...


Thanks for this interesting article. I'm a step father of two teenage daughters and I can sing a song about chores. There is certainly a lot to say about how motivation works and why, etc... But in the end, from a purely pragmatic viewpoint, I just wanted this "problem" solved.

So, a while ago I set down and thought about how to make it somehow "cool" for our girls to do their chores. In the end it is all about recognition that motivates kids from within themselves. Well, I built a little web-application that truly did the trick. It converts chores into a playful competition and provides public recognition of everybody's deeds. It rewards completed chores in a meaningful way. Public recognition of what the kids did reassures them that their deeds don't pass unnoticed. THAT DID THE TRICK. You would not believe that ever since we put this program to work, our stuff is done!!!
You can try it yourself. It's Free:

I would love to hear your feedback and if it worked for anybody else. That would be terrific.

Many greetings,