My Kids Took Over the Kitchen This Summer

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This is the new sign in my kitchen. It all started when I told my daughter I hated my life. Statements like that are excellent confidence and security builders – you should try them. You say something like that to your kid and stand back and watch them flourish.

I’m kidding of course.

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It was a real humbling moment for me.

All summer our kitchen has been riddled with crushed cereal, half eaten fruit laying on counters and cabinet doors wide open with snack boxes ajar. Little ones eating in the living room and crumbing all over my rugs and furniture. Snack wrappers stashed under sofas and chairs… you get the picture.

One day while getting breakfast for everyone I ran downstairs to get some milk (because the fridge in our kitchen was not working) when I realized someone (not me) left the basement refrigerator door open all night. Everything gone. On my way upstairs I noticed a half eaten apple sitting on the basement floor. Ants all around.

Later that day the subsequent trip to Costco, post fridge disaster, was still stacked high on the counter when my oldest decided it was time to bake something. Trying to give her freedom to be a big kid I decided to let her continue. While I cleaned off the table and floor (by myself) from breakfast, lunch and snack, she was making a new mess on the small portion of the counter you could still see. Looking for help I glanced into the sitting room to find four other kids watching TV and playing on electronic devices while I was cleaning up their messes.

It was then that I reached my boiling point and words flew. I didn’t really mean what I said. I was just frustrated with the situation I found myself in. I had just then decided they should be helping me but I wasn’t making them, in fact, I wasn’t even asking them to. But I was mad they weren’t helping me anyway.

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That night at my Bible study this statement struck me. “Your emotions are an indicator, not a determiner”.

OK, so my feelings don’t dictate, or determine how I must react. I am asked to have self control with my actions and words. That is a choice that I have to make in the moment and I take responsibility for that.

I know this, but I blow it once in a while. I’m not perfect and I’m not going to be perfect. Even God doesn’t expect me to be perfect. Ahhhh, sigh of relief.

But the most freeing piece of that statement was that my emotions are an indicator.

For some reason I have a very difficult time feeling justified in creating household rules based upon my feelings of frustration or irritation. When I am frustrated with some behavior going on in my home I feel like I need to “deal” with my emotion rather than changing the situation that is causing my frustration. So for me this was liberating to realize that my feelings of frustration over the constant state of my kitchen were an indicator that something was wrong in my home. And it was not only ok, but my job as mother, to change the situation.

In this case it was straight forward. I have the right to insist others clean up their own messes and respect our home and if they don’t they lose some privileges in the kitchen. While it isn’t ok for me to say hurtful things, it is ok for me to insist on some appropriate behavior around our home.

So for now the hours of operation were posted. This enables me to manage the meals and enforce the cleanup without hanging around my kitchen ALL DAY LONG.

I apologized to the kids that night for my actions and I prayed in front of them asking God for forgiveness as well. Then we discussed how out of control the kitchen had been lately and I told them the kitchen was going to have open hours each day until I knew people would clean up after themselves. I expected a lot of groaning and moaning, whining and complaining, but instead, I think they appreciated the boundaries. Imagine that.

We are all beautifully imperfect!

How To Get Your Kids to Do Their Chores – Part 2

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Well, one thing is for sure, you have to keep track or you will have no idea what’s going on. Those little sneaky sneaks will tell you they definitely made their bed every day this week and you won’t have any idea if they are telling you the truth or pulling one over on you. You got to keep track.

However, I find that all systems begin to tire over time and stop working. They stop working either because you get tired of filling out the charts, or the incentives aren’t incenting anymore. One way or the other, it becomes old and boring, so you have to keep things fresh.

Here are some things if have tried over the years and liked. I will return to these periodically as we tire of the old system. Or if I start to slack off and then realize things are getting out of control, I will switch systems overnight to give us a fresh start.
Before I show you my sad little systems I have a few things to say.
1. You will not find any elaborate, crafty, Pintresty systems here. Anything I do has to be easy and duplicatable 5 times over. Five elaborate systems would take over the house so I don’t do them. If you are looking for something creative and really fun, try Pinterest, you will find a gazillion.
2. Please, if you take one thing away from this post let it be that no strategy is a permanent fix, we all fail at keeping up with these. So don’t get down on yourself, or your kids, when your strategy quits working. Just mix it up again and keep going. And if you need a pick-me-up or booster shot, email me and I will tell you that you have not failed, the system has. Get up tomorrow and start anew.
OK, now here are some of my chore tracking devices I have used, or am using now:
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1. Printable chore chart. This was my original plan, back when chores were new to my kids. I made these cute little sheets and printed a bunch out. I filled them out for each kid weekly. The pros, you make up new chores weekly. Cons, you have to fill a new one out every week. This works really well for those kids who like to mark things off. My older kids and my son are like this. Also, you can use crayon, markers or have lots of fun with it if your kids like stickers. Click here to download my printable chore chart.
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2. Dry erase chore chart. We had these from Board Dudes for a long time. They worked well for us. They come with magnetic stars that you put in the square when you have completed that chore for the day. The kids really liked these and they held up for a long time. The biggest problem with them was the smalls walking by and pulling all of the stars off so you had no idea what anyone had done that week.
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3. iPad chore chart. Our favorite is Chore Pad HD. I believe it costs $5.00. You can set up rewards inside of it, so when your kids do so many chores they reach awards. You can set up a different amount for each chore, so some are worth more stars than others. It allows you to go back and check their chores and deduct some points for sloppy work or give bonus points for a job well done. Also, it dings and applauds for you when you check off your chores. It’s quite the production. You will earn trophies when you have completed x number of chores and you can view your award chest anytime to see what you have racked up. Lots of fun and a good system. Chore Pad’s reign ended in our home when I found someone cheating the system by going back and checking off all their chores hey hadn’t completed in the past – giving themselves the highest prize unfairly. There’s always one.
4. No chart. Sometimes I abandon all tracking devices and pick a time of day when we do chores and I just divvy them up as I see fit at that time. I look around see what needs to be done and ask them to get to it. I use statements like this to make this work, “You are welcome to go play with your friends once your chores are done.” Lots of time this is instituted on a day when our house has been ransacked by a few or I’m in a bad mood and need some quick peace brought into our home. That’s just honest.
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5. Morning and evening five. These are little sheets I post on their doors with the 5 things they need to do before going to school and the five things they need to do before bed. This worked for a short time, when the kids were little, but I found I needed something more enticing than going to bed to motivate them to get the chores completed as they got older. You know what I mean? My kids would be more than happy to put bedtime off. But for the younger crowd it is a good visual to help them remember the few things they need to do to start and end their day well. Click HERE for printable Morning and Evening 5 charts.
As always, I would love to hear your ideas, please leave me a comment!

How To Get Your Kids to Do Their Chores – Part 1

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Bribes, threats, punishment, rewards, treats, money, toys…I have tried it all to get my kids to happily do their fair share of the household work. But the fact is, I don’t always do my chores with glee either. And, like my children, I have been known to procrastinate a less-than-exciting task hanging over my head.

So, we should understand when our kids don’t run toward the chore-at-hand with dancing feet and smiling faces.

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The goal is to teach them how to be a part of a family. We all pitch in to do the work that has to be done, so we can do the things we want to do. That’s why I do them. Because If I don’t have clean towels, I don’t enjoy my shower nearly as much.

I used to really dislike going to the grocery store. I had panic attacks in the snack isle and broke out with hives in the frozen food section. But it is a chore that has to be done. So I used to treat myself with a home magazine after I finished a big grocery run. After I had put all of the groceries away I would allow myself to sit down and peruse the pages getting inspiration for my next project.

Maybe my kids are the same way. And maybe they deserve a little treat at the end of their most disliked chore too. It doesn’t have to be food, just something to look forward to.

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After taking all of this into consideration I did away with the threats, and bribes and sympathetically approached this as a fact of life. These things have to get done and as a family we all pitch in.

First, I divided the house into similarly sized areas. Each child was assigned an area, or areas, they need to clean. One child has the front living room, another the family room, another the sitting room. Then I divided the basement, where all of our toys are, the same way. One has the kitchen area, another the dress up area, another the bins, etc. And each child is responsible for their own bedroom and bath.

Second, I divvied up the after dinner chores: everyone takes their dishes to the sink, one wipes the table, another sweeps and so on.

Now, here is how I ask them to get them done. While these techniques aren’t perfect, it enables me to stay calm while allowing them to take responsibility for their part.

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Chore Time. With the younger kids, ages 5 and under, I use a time technique. I tell them that 4:30 p.m. is chore time. And at 4:30 before I start dinner we clean up together. Since they require more supervision this gives me time before I am elbow deep in dinner prep. Often I will take the mail with me and sort through or read the latest catalog while I watch them cleaning. Otherwise, I help them out. Once they are done, and in order to keep my house from getting totally trashed again, I put a show on for them while I make dinner.

Chore Deadlines. With the older kids I give them a little more autonomy to choose when they do their chores. They have to have their areas clean before they can go out to play after dinner. This gives them all day to decide when to do them, but a firm deadline with incentive following the deadline.  For the ones that put off their chores until after dinner I like to use statements like, “feel free to go outside and play once your chores are done.” or “you are welcome to play with your friends as soon as your chores and completed.” So they have a deadline, but room to choose – now or later. There is incentive to complete them with the opportunity to play after dinner. And there is a consequence of not getting to play after dinner if they don’t get it done by that time.

Of course I always have to check, because they never get them done well, never. My husband and I share the checking responsibility and sometimes I will have them check each others work. If I don’t have time to check and they did a bad job, the next night they don’t go out at all.

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5 Minute Clean Up. There is one other technique I use now and then. I call it the 5 minute clean up. I use this when the toy room is really messy and no one wants to touch it. On these days I grab the kitchen timer, or the iPod and put some fun tunes on. Then we all clean as much as we can get done in 5 minutes. Then we stop – and leave it. We can make some decent progress in 5 minutes and the next day it isn’t as daunting. I just did this one the other day and we had the entire basement cleaned up in two evenings of 5 minute clean ups.

What do you do?

Chore List by Age

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Our second child was born only 16 months after our first. And I don’t have to tell you that I was stressed. But I will. With two babies I couldn’t get anything done and the dishes and laundry were piling up. I needed some help, somewhere.

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Around this time I was reading a parent magazine (probably in the doctor’s office because that was the only place I had the time or ability to read anything). Anyway, I ran across an article about kid’s chores. My stomach leapt with joy when I read that a 2-year-old could take their dishes to the sink after a meal by themselves. Seriously, I could expect #1 to help out that soon? This was good news. No, this was fantastic news. I had no idea I could expect them to do things this early. I read on. I asked friends. I found out all the things a 2-year-old might be able to help do and I started implementing them.

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I had visions of sitting on the sofa watching HGTV while my 2-year-old cleaned the house and made dinner. Well, it’s not quite like that but it is an important part of learning how to be a part of a family. Here you see #1 feeding #2 some of her water. A little for you – a little for me. Well, now I know she can give the baby a bottle in a pinch. I’ll take it.

So, here is a list of chores by age.

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TIP: I give “promotions” once in a while from one chore to another. The kids love it and it’s fun to see the pride on their faces when they realize they are being given a “higher” responsibility.

Click here for a free printable version of the chores list by age.