We’ve had a breakthrough with my kids’ chores. Not because we discovered a magical new chore system for older kids — but because we finally held our kids accountable to the chore system we’re already using.
Chores for Older Kids: Expect More As They Get Older
When my kids were little, the daily chore list was simple: hang up your coat, clear your dishes, put away your toys, brush your teeth. I had to teach them how to do each job and remind them to do their chores every day. When giving chores to little kids, doing the work is less important than establishing the routine.
The years went by. Different kids learn differently, and progress isn’t always smooth. Fine. We were in the chore game for the long haul. As my kids got older, their chore lists grew appropriately longer. (Each kid has a laminated chore list hanging in the kitchen.) I still did a lot of reminding.
Today, my kids are teen and tween. They know how to do their chores. They know how to mark finished items on their chore charts. The problem is I’m still reminding them to do their chores every day. (Let’s be honest: it’s now loud, irritated nagging.)
I grew so accustomed to reminding that I had forgotten to raise my chore expectations.
The Two Parts of a Chore: the Job, and Remembering to Do the Job
Every time I reminded/nagged my kids about chores, I took over a bit of their responsibility. Even though they always did as I asked, I was sending the message that as long as they did the work they weren’t expected to remember to do the work.
But that’s exactly the wrong message to send to an older kid. In their minds, I forgot wasn’t an excuse, it was an acceptable reason because I had assumed responsibility for the reminders.
Oops. I had become part of the problem.
The Four-Part Chore Solution: Family Buy-In, Fair Expectations, Clear Consequences, Follow-Through
I had to return the responsibility for remembering their chores to my kids. The answer was to recommit to the chore system we were already using.
1. Get family buy-in
The first step was to get everyone on board. We discussed the problem over dinner. My husband and I explained how we were pained by the negativity of the chore situation. “We’re trying to prepare you for independent adulthood, and remembering one’s responsibilities is a major part of that.”
The kids agreed that they — not we — should remember their chores. They also agreed that the current system wasn’t working. No one liked the yelling and the irritation that filled the house.
2. Set fair expectations
The next step was to agree upon the new expectations. We pointed out how responsible they are about their schoolwork, so we knew they were capable of remembering their chores. They agreed. Was there anything we could do to tweak the chore system to help them remember? My daughter suggested moving the chore lists from the kitchen to the table so they saw the list the moment they came home from school. My son suggested setting time-based alarms on his phone.
3. Agree upon clear consequences
We had to agree on a consequence for forgetting. This is not the same as asking a kid how he thinks he should be punished for blatant misbehavior. The consequence was a logical tool to help my kids remember — not a punishment for forgetting. Consequences vs. punishment is an important distinction because it keeps the focus squarely on their responsibility.
We agreed that a moderate allowance deduction would do the trick. My kids didn’t like the consequence, but they both agreed it was fair.
4. Follow-through…our job from now on
The final task was on my husband and me: to follow through. Not just the next day, but from now on. This is harder than it sounds (at least for me) and it’s crucial.
Once my kids finish their daily chores and homework, they can move on to whatever free time activity they feel like doing. Now, when I stumble on an unfinished chore or responsibility, I don’t yell for them to complete it, I charge them a quarter. I write – .25 on a Post-It Note, slap it on the spot, note the deduction on their chore chart, and move on.
When my kids later come across the Post-It, the allowance deduction reminds them of their responsibility and our agreement. It’s small enough that it doesn’t obliterate their allowance, but big enough to sting (especially if the Post-Its start piling up). Plus, they still have to do the job.
The Results of Our Improved Chore System
It’s working. Our improved chore setup has reduced the yelling in my house and increased my kids’ ownership of their responsibilities. I would go so far as to say we’re all happier as a result.
I admit that I struggle to stick with the system — I find myself taking pity on the kids and falling back on reminders — but then I remember it helps no one when I fail to follow through.
Let’s talk about chores and older children. What’s working for you? What struggles can’t you get past?
Leave a comment with your questions and tips about older kids and chores.
In our book, Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More By Doing Less, my co-author Christine and I go into detail about chores for both younger and older kids — why they’re so important (and why it’s never too late to begin), which jobs to delegate, and how to get started. Learn more about Minimalist Parenting at Amazon.