A Chore System for My Kids That Actually Works

Posted by on July 21, 2011

When I only had one child and all her toys fit in a laundry basket, keeping the house clean was pretty easy. Now I have two kids that have way too much stuff, one house that is way too small and not nearly enough time to deal with working, parenting, chauffeuring, cooking AND housekeeping.

My solution?

Put the kids to work!

Well, that was the idea but it mostly amounted to me asking them to do various things around the house and them complaining and/or procrastinating and generally resisting anything resembling a chore.

After a few nonstarters with charts and stickers and such, I almost gave up. But then I looked at my house and my work-allergic children lounging about while I did everything and decided there had to be a better way.

I gave it a lot of thought and concluded that my eldest, almost eleven, always responds best to bribery a rewards system. It worked for potty training, it worked for straight A’s and if I had my way, it was going to work with chores.

My then-five year old..well, he was five—I didn’t expect a whole lot from him but I figured I better get him used to doing his share and teach him to embrace the joy of earning your own money *snort*

I mentioned my dilemma to a friend who told me about a system where kids earn marbles for their chores and cash them in for money. This idea definitely sounded like it had potential so I decided to try a modified version of my own.

This is what I did…

I got two mason jars from Michael’s and two bags of those glass stones usually found in faux floral arrangements.

I gave each child a Sharpie and a bunch of stickers and told them to put their name on their jar and decorate it to their heart’s content.

While they decorated, I created a chore sheet in Excel. On each line was a chore, accompanied by a picture that indicated the chore (my son was still in kindergarten so the pictures were helpful).

In the next column was a number that indicated how many of those colored glass stones they would get for completing the chore.

The concept was very simple and easy to understand—do THIS CHORE and get X number of stones—no stickers or daily notations.

And at the bottom, in a large, bold typeface: Full Jar = $10

Then I sat down with the kids, showed them the sheet and explained the new system.

In a nutshell, every day I would tell them which chores needed to be done. Whoever did those chores would get the corresponding number of glass stones deposited in their jar. When their jar was full? They got ten smackers, ten greenbacks, ten big ones, TEN WHOLE DOLLARS!

They were psyched and and for a while, the chores got done lickety split. The chore jars, however, were taking ages to get full and I could see they were losing their motivation. I decided to increase the amount of stones for each job and this got us back on track.

Since my son is little and can’t do all the available jobs, it takes him longer to fill his jar (he’s filled it once and is about 1/3 into a new jar).

My daughter, on the other hand, has filled her jar two times and is on her way to filling it again. It takes her about a month to fill a jar so it comes out to $10 a month or $2.50 a week. That figure feels a little low for me until I remember she’s ten, has no expenses and is learning the value of a dollar. WIN!

Here’s an example of our chores and their values:

• Empty three small trash cans (bathroom, bedroom, office) : 6 stones

• Take out the recycling: 5 stones

• Take out kitchen trash: 5 stones

• Empty the dishwasher: 5 stones

• Load the dishwasher: 5 stones

• Scoop the litterbox:  7 stones

• Take clean laundry out of dryer, bring inside: 4 stones

• Vacuum living room and office: 7 stones

• Vacuum bedrooms: 4 stones

• Mow front yard with reel mower: 15 stones

Tips:

• If you have more than once child, get each one different colored stones so they can’t steal them from each other.

• Hide your stash of stones so they can’t help themselves.

• If your kids aren’t motivated by money, you can always make the reward something more relevant.

• For little kids, try a smaller jar and adjust the reward accordingly. Little ones don’t really “get” the delayed gratification thing and may end up frustrated and unwilling if their participation doesn’t result in a reward in a reasonable amount of time.

So that’s The Chore System of Awesomeness we’ve been using. It’s been more effective than anything else and I suspect that as long as my kids ask for stuff and I tell them they need to save up and buy it with their own money,  it will continue to be effective.

What’s your chore system, if you have one?  How long have you been doing it?  How’s it working?

 


52 Comments

  • That’s cute. My 3yo boy is still too young for that, and fortunately, he’s at the stage where he gets really excited to be a helper, but I will try to remember that when the time comes and every simple task becomes a reason to argue with his dad.

    • IzzyMom says:

      Awww..I remember that age. When my son was about three he loved to help me empty the dishwasher by handing me things to put away. Now, at 6? Meh. He occasionally gets excited to help out but mostly, he’d rather be playing. Maybe if I put some Legos in the dishwasher???

    • Nicole says:

      I may just steal/try this. My kids sound so similar…I recently told them they’d get $5/ week but had to help out w/o me asking. No luck. I was specific in what they were supposed to do. Charts didn’t work or stickers. My son wants to be paid for one thing, but it’s just not helpful for him to set the table one night :) We did start using an iPhone app, where he gets computer time which can be exchanged for rewards (e.g. ice cream or mini golf trip). That worked for a few weeks :)

      I sometimes remind them how much they enjoyed helping when they were three. I have a great photo of a plate just set in flat.

  • magpie says:

    I like that. I struggle with the chore thing, and the money thing…

  • Gregg Murset says:

    http://www.myjobchart is a free, online chore chart. I created it for our 6 kids and now there are almost 100,000 using it.

    • IzzyMom says:

      If you read my post, you’d know that we tried chore charts, didn’t have any luck with them and find our current system preferable partly because there is nothing to update daily.

      Additionally, it’s kind of rude to jump into my comments and promote your own site. How would you like it if I went on your site and started promoting my chore system to your visitors?

      The polite thing to do is ASK FIRST if it’s okay to promote your own stuff here (or request an ad rate sheet).

  • Rae Ann says:

    It’s funny that you posted this article today. I have just spent my entire morning working out a chore system for my two layabouts! And one for me, too, since I am taking couch potato-ing to a whole new level. I am going to do a card system and hold the TV hostage until the requisite daily chores have been done (Make bed, open drapes, brush teeth, laundry {clean and dirty}. We’ll see how it goes!

    • IzzyMom says:

      Layabouts..love that word!

      I suspect if my kids watched more TV, I could dangle that over their heads but our set is so locked down with parental controls, the only stuff for them to watch is little kid programming which, sadly, bores even the younger one most of the time.

      Good luck to you and your layabouts :)

  • mixie says:

    my little brother is two and my step mom wanted me to do some reasearch on charts for later. This would be really cool if i knew he wasnt going to play with the rocks. haha i will save this and get my step mom to try it when he is older. He is only two right now and still in that i wanna help with everything even though he is little. This was really helpful though. :)

    • IzzyMom says:

      Yikes, glass jars and little stones might not be a good idea for a two year old and since he loves helping, maybe just giving him a small reward right after he helps would be enough.

      For future reference, I keep the jar where my son can clearly see it but can’t really reach it easily. The big thing is letting them see you put the stones in the jar.

      Good luck!

  • soh says:

    This is brilliant. I have tried all sorts of things with varied success, usually because it’s that much more work to keep track of what everyone’s earned, who did what chore, who gets what reward, bleargh!

    Now I’m going to try this, because it can be very simple. I’m going to give my three younger kids stones for co-operation too (making the little sister a sandwich or reading her a book) and the littlest child can just have a smaller jar because she can’t do as much as her big brothers yet.

    Excellent, thank you. I got here from stumbleupon, and I see a lot of overly complicated chart-based stuff, which I promptly click right past, but your system makes simple, logical sense, and for that I thank you!

  • IzzyMom says:

    Yes! The charting never worked for me and my kids didn’t really care about stickers and chart notations. They wanted something more tangible. I like your idea about stones for cooperation, too! Good luck to you :)

  • Headless Mom says:

    Since school is starting soon here (ugh) this may be exactly what the dr. ordered. I need a new system! Any ideas of how to tie in Video game time? That is the biggest pain in my ___. For summer they could ‘buy’ a little extra time every day by playing outside but that won’t work too well once school starts. I need to start with a fresh system.

    • TP says:

      A friend of mine has two boys that are big gamers – to the point where they did’t want to play sports or anything else at the time. She set up a plan where they had to “buy” their gaming time with activity time. For example – attend an hour of soccer practice or a game and earn XXX number of minutes on the game console.

  • Oxana says:

    I have been thinking about how to get my kids to help with the housework . Your experience will serve me well. Do you have the exel file you made to show the tasks to your children? I’m not sure what chores can be done by my children.I hope you understand this comment, my english isn´t very good. :)

    • IzzyMom says:

      I don’t have a picture of the Excel file but it’s pretty basic and really, you could make it in any word processing program. As for chores, I don’t know your kid’s ages but there are things even small kids can do. For the younger ones, it’s getting them used to the idea of helping more than actually getting any major chores done.

  • What a great idea! I’ve been trying to come up with a creative way to make cleaning up fun and rewarding. Thanks!

  • Lisa says:

    These are all GREAT ideas!! I wish I would have found them before my kids were teenagers! :)

  • Kelli MW says:

    This is a fantastic idea!! I have used charts in the past… and they just aren’t clicking with my kids. But a full jar of stones = $10 makes perfect sense. Definitely trying this out.

    Great post!

  • WoW! you really got me thinking. I sounds like something that I could use. Thanks for the info

  • Apryl's Antics says:

    I’m glad you typed this out. I’ve been “meaning” to try it. :)

  • Christine Larson says:

    What a great idea! I only wish I had started it many years ago. My kids are now 8, 10, and 12. Any ideas for the older kids with this system? Help, i’ ve created lazy kids thinking it was just easier to do it myself. Bribery works great, I just have struggled with how to do it. Ideas anyone?

    • IzzyMom says:

      My kids are lazy, too, but they are motivated by MONEY! I think the key is to make life a bit less comfortable by closing the Bank of Mom. Give them each a few dollars and tell them that is it…no more money for the concession stand, the arcade…whatever it is kids spend money on these days. If they need money for something that doesn’t involved their basic needs, tell them that they have to earn it—and DON’T buy them stuff. If you must, make it easy for them at first to earn money, and then slowly make it a little harder once they’re used to the system (so you’re not handing out money for minimal work). It sounds mean but you have to make it hurt a little (figuratively speaking) Expect complaining, whining and door slamming but stand firm. They will get tired of not having the means to get what they want and they’ll come around.

  • Coupon Trunk says:

    This certainly sounds like it’s worth a try. I’ve been giving my daughter money for chores, but this seems like it would make it easier for her to see how well she’s progressing toward her monetary goals.

  • Apryl's Antics says:

    It’s working with mine (first day, though)! They are enjoying the competition and they really do like getting to put the stones in the jar.

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  • michelle says:

    what ever happened to ” if you don’t clean your room, your not going out” or “you made the mess you clean the mess” maybe i was raised a little different but we did not get paid to do what we are told!!

    • IzzyMom says:

      Been there, done that. It’s not worth the tears and crying and me getting upset. We also wanted to teach our kids the value of a dollar. They want things and buying them with money they earned makes them appreciate those things a lot more than if we buy them for them. They also think a lot harder about how they spend the money they worked for. Plus, if I’m going to shell out the money, i may as well get some help around the house in return. I consider my way to be a win win for all of us and i don’t miss the drama at all.

  • Laurie says:

    Love these ideas! I have older kids, too (as some of the other commenters mentioned) — 11 and 15 — but I think this would work for them also. They have their “standard” chores (dishes/trash/etc. weekly), for which they get paid weekly on Fridays, but my problem has been getting them to do anything additional (extra things that pop up — weeding the patio, rinsing the pet food container, etc.). I was having trouble deciding who should do what and being fair about it, but your jar solution might be just the ticket. They DO love extra money, especially in the summer! :)

  • Erin says:

    This is a tough topic for me and I’ve been thinking quite a bit about what I will do when my kids are old enough to dislike helping (my son is 2 and my daughter is 8 months).

    On one hand, I realize that rewards help motivate children and using these types of systems can help alleviate the trouble with nagging and procrastinating. But I wonder if it is solving the larger issue.

    Sometimes we just have to do things because they need to be done. I don’t really feel like I get a reward for doing the dishes or cleaning the bathroom. Yes, there is the intangible reward of a job well done and a clean house, but nobody is paying me to do these chores and I don’t really feel “rewarded” while I’m working at these mundane tasks.

    I feel like there’s a lot to say for teaching children that they need to help out around the house because they are part of the family that lives there. I’ve read some things in parenting books that talk about not paying for chores unless the kid wants to volunteer to do Mom and Dad’s chores for pay.

    I just wonder if paying for every little chore makes kids feel entitled to some sort of reward for every little thing they are required to do. When they grow up, most of what they will have to do to be productive adults will not come with a reward.

    All that being said, I have no idea how I will implement chores. I’m still in the thinking stage of all this.

    • IzzyMom says:

      If you choose to take the not-paying-for-chores route, my advice is to start them on that track when they are very young. I didn’t because it was 10,000x easier and faster to do it myself. When they get older, it’s much harder to get any cooperation without fussing or attitude (at least around here).

      I know some disagree with my way but I think it’s all in how you look at it.

      My take is this: I don’t like being angry over chores and I’m going to give my kids money anyway, I figure I may as well make them work for it and get some help around here.

      I think it’s absurd to worry about how they will keep their homes when they’re adults (and nobody is there to pay them). They will, after all, be adults and it will be their responsibility. One the upside, they’ll always know the value of a hard-earned dollar that wasn’t just handed to them.

      • Erin says:

        I can understand your point of view. When they are adults, it will be their responsibility to find their own motivation for keeping their house clean and their life in order. I’m in agreement there.

        The trouble I have is seeing the kids coming out of college right now and into the workforce. Time and time again, I’m seeing kids that expect praise and reward for every task they do at work. That’s not how it works in the workplace. You do what your boss asks you to do because he asked you to do it and he’s paying you to do your job. You may not be praised for a job well done and you may not get recognition for it, but you have to do it anyway.

        Our job as parents is to prepare our kids for what is out there. Yes, we do protect them when they are young but I think it’s being taken to an extreme these days. That’s why I’m struggling with the balance between teaching them to work for their money and teaching them that sometimes they just need to help out and do things because that’s what is expected of them as part of the family.

        I will take your advice to heart: if I decide to go the route of not paying for chores, I will start it early.

  • Nicole says:

    I just wanted to say I started this…found these cute glass heart-shaped jars for $1.19 – spent way more on the stones :) I was afraid of getting something too big, but these are a bit small. So far they love it, although I’m thinking of raising the stakes. My son scored 3 for cleaning out a dresser of too small clothes, and they get one for putting their dishes in the dishwasher, putting away their clothes – things they should be doing anyway, but I want to give them an allowance anyway so it’s a win-win. Anyway, THANK YOU! (I just read my old comment up there, I have no clue what that last sentence means. Very strange.

  • Margaret says:

    Interestingly, I’ve been doing the same thing since about the second week of school at the suggestion of the G/T coordinator who works one-on-one with my son, but it’s been more for schoolwork/homework and positive attitude. When he completes his homework cheerfully and without complaint, he gets beads in his jar. When he brings home schoolwork that is complete (and not crumpled up in a ball–trust me, it’s happened) with good effort made, not just slap-dash and messy, he gets beads.

    It worked so well that we expanded the program–Now, my daughter has her own jar, and though she’s a conscientious student who takes pride in her work, for her, this was more about her being cheerful and pleasant (she’s a very tweeny tween these days) and generally a good household citizen.

    Now they both get beads when they help out unasked around the house, are good sports when playing a game, take on something challenging and try their best, or behave well and get along with each other if I leave them at home together while I run errands. My son still gets them for schoolwork, and my daughter gets them for being more outgoing and doing extra credit work at school.

    The motivation has been *great* for them. Plus, they are FAR more pleasant to be around as a general rule.

    When they fill their jars they get a book of their choice.

  • IzzyMom says:

    I’m glad to read that you’re getting good results with your kids. I should employ this system for my daughter who could totally be more pleasant and a better household citizen. She’s a moody, mean tween.

  • Ann says:

    Thank you for posting your great idea. I’ve been thinking about starting a chore system for a few motnhs now. I’ve been dragging my feet because every system I reviewed seemed too complicated for both me and the kids. When I came across your stones in a jar system I knew I found a winner. It’s simple and will be easy to maintain. I understand some people’s concerns with paying children every time they do a chore. For what it’s worth, The way I address it in our family is to have the children do certain chores daily without being paid. These are chores that they do because they are taking responsibility for themselves (making their beds, feeding their pets, etc). Your terrific stone/jar monetary system will be used for extra chores (laundry, gardening, sweeping, etc).

  • mel says:

    I think you have ocd, but I read it, so maybe I do too.

  • Kelly says:

    We bought little toys and treats at the dollar store and had them in a basket. This way they have a “store” to look in and a real goal staring them in the face motivating them to work hard to get the thing they want. Found this better then giving them $, especially when they are young.

  • Lisa says:

    This is a great idea – especially the part about making sure that the stones are different colors. My kids would totally ‘borrow’ each others stones to fill their own jars.

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  • I love your idea about the stones and chore chart. I have been blessed with 3 kids who love helping out. I am hoping this will not come to an end one day. They fight over who gets to vacuum ,wipe down the cabinets , load the dish washer and etc since they all want to do everything.

  • What a neat little system! As someone who runs a daycare, we see all sorts of children, and it is a reflection of what they are being taught at home. This truly sets the correct values in them while teaching them giving and receiving.

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