The act of creating a list of chores for kids is, well, a chore. But setting up age-appropriate tasks are important for a child’s development and making sure your house seem like it just experienced a seismic event. A chore chart, a calendar-like board used to track and organize various household tasks from toy pickup and book sorting to bed making and lawn mowing that kids must do throughout the week, is an excellent way to set up a working system.
“Chore charts help children see themselves as capable and able to accomplish tasks,” says Maureen Healy, author of The Emotionally Healthy Child. “It’s really the beginning of helping your son or daughter develop self-reliance and ultimately, years from now. [Helping to ]raise a child who can take care of herself, and contribute her unique gifts to the world with gusto.”
How do you create a chore chart that actually works? Well, that’s another thing altogether. Tone, creativity, and collaboration are all important to address. Here are some tactics for creating a chore chart that actually gets stuff accomplished.
Make It Collaborative
Unless a family is living in Dickensian England, parents will know that the idea of a chore chart shouldn’t be to simply shrug off tasks on a child. That doesn’t necessarily play to their strengths. “Children aren’t designed for solitary work. They’re designed for fun, for collaboration, and for being noticed,” says Juli Idleman of Hand in Hand Parenting. “Rather than, ‘Please take out the garbage,’ try, ‘Can you grab one end of this sack? It’s really heavy!’ and opening a conversation about what might be in there.” Parents should try scheduling a short period of time where everyone in the house helps out on one task together. This kind of collaboration keeps chores from becoming rote and isolating.
A great way to let children have ownership over their chore chart is to let them make it themselves. “This lets them give their personal touch and depending on their age can have stickers, they can color it, etc.,” says child psychologist Paul DePompo. “My suggestion is to involve them in the creative component of the chore chart,” adds Healy, “whether it’s making a wall chalkboard or using colored magnets.” Plus, this entrusts your child with organizing a chart in a way that will make it easy to understand and remember.
There’s a huge difference between ‘helping chores’ and ‘paid chores,’ and it’s a difference kids will pick up on quickly. “Some families want children to pick up their toys and put dirty clothes in their hampers as standard daily activities, like showering and brushing teeth,” says psychotherapist and family expert Kevon Owen. “Other parents want to give incentives to children with weekly allowances or optional but paid chores such as cooking a meal or cutting the grass.” The key is to keep those chores and rewards consistent and clearly delineated, earning your child’s trust and cooperation in the process.
Keep the Rewards Visible
Speaking of rewards, a vital element of a successful chore chart is allowing children to keep their eyes on the prize. “The key is to focus the rewards on things that they need encouragement to do,” says Dr. Ari Yares. “If they already make their bed every morning, you don’t necessarily have to reward them for it. But, if they don’t, it might be something to put on the chore chart.” Incorporating reminders of what will be given as a reward for completing a given chore on the chart itself will hopefully translate into an internal motivation at a certain point.
Be Specific, But Not Too Specific
One challenge that comes into play when crafting a chore chart is a vague understanding of the steps involved. “I often hear about chore plans for families falling apart, even with a great chore chart and a system for rewarding kids, because the basic expectations and steps of a chore were never taught,” says Dr. Yares. Parents can’t assume that their kid knows the specific steps to emptying a dishwasher, etc. This will only serve to overwhelm them. “For a chore chart to work,” says Dr. Yares, “we need to make sure that our kids really know what they are doing and provide feedback when they miss the mark.” However, another sand trap comes along when parents are busy or overcomplicate the chart itself. The fix: Focus the chart on a few key chores and specify the most important steps for completing those.
Have A Plan for Yourself
Feedback on the chore chart or the presence of chores at all is not always going to be enthusiastic on the part of your child. “We also need the parent’s plan of how they will follow through consistently positively and negatively depending on the child’s completion,” says DePompo. “Parents need to respond calm and execute the positive or negative consequences consistently for the chore chart to take off independently.” In your case, this might mean either adjusting the chart as necessary, or finding a way to draw clear lines for why the chart must stay the way it is.
Build Up to Lifelong Skills
The chore chart may seem like it could only be a function of childhood, but organizing and codifying a system for completing necessary tasks around the house can evolve as your children grow. “The tween years are a great time to turn a chore chart into a survival chart,” says Elizabeth Malson, President of the Amslee Institute. “Sit down with your children and share that you want them to be independent and successful adults, so they will need to learn how to do laundry, iron clothes, cook complete meals, change their sheets, wake up on their own, pump gas and wash a car, keep a calendar, and manage their hygiene.”
The beneficial effects of sticking to one system or another as your kids grow up have been widely studied and reported. Martha Rossman, notes Allen Michael, editor of HomeViable.com, “performed a 25- year study on children to determine how chores throughout adolescence affected success in their twenties. She found clear evidence that those with chores were better adjusted, had better relationships with family and friends, had a clear sense of empathy, and were more successful in their career.” Plus, children and teenagers alike intuitively understand the meaning that comes with helping others. Encouraging those instincts bonds your family together and strengthens a child’s sense of connection to the welfare of their whole family. All it takes is a little push.