How to make kids chore charts work

Parents often ask, “How to make chore charts work?” Before the age of technology parents often used chore charts on paper to help them monitor their child’s responsibilities and teach them responsibility. While I am a fan of technology, I always refer parents back to using a chore chart on paper. The main reason I recommend using kids chore charts on paper is that it visible for you and your child without resorting to a device. There are free printable chore charts in the resource section of this website.

One of the biggest misconceptions about chore charts is that it is only meant to monitor chores. Chores are defined as physical work. This is wrong! Chore charts can be used for so much more than that. Chore charts are really a method of changing a child’s behavior and creating a habit. Once the behavior becomes a habit, that behavior is replaced with a different item and the child progressively begins to shape their behavior in a positive way.

DON’T LIMIT YOUR USE OF CHORE CHARTS AS ONLY A METHOD TO SEE IF TASKS ARE DONE. (Sorry, I don’t mean to yell.)

Look at chore charts as a tool to shape behavior. When you incorporate additional behavioral aspects into this method, you will be far more effective in your parenting and your child will gain greater resilience in their skills of mastery and independence. A chore chart is meant to create a child’s awareness of a behavior that you want your child to eventually do on their own.

Let me give you an example of how this worked with a family I worked with a few years ago.

I was working with a family and they had a teenager that would not attend his classes at school. When he received his report card, his grades were failing. The parents were using chore charts in the home already but specifically for chores so we shifted the way they were using it to incorporate changing their son’s behavior.

The behavior we wanted was for him to attend all his classes everyday. Granted, his parents wanted to focus on his grades first but after some evaluation, we decided to focus on a behavior that was difficult for their son to accomplish but easy enough to do. So we focused first on improving attendance.

The “chore” we put in place was a piece of paper their son had to take to school everyday. His teachers would sign the paper stating he was in class for the day. Everyday, the son would return home with the paper and it determine how many privileges he would earn for the rest of the day. If he returned home with no signatures, he would lose all privileges for the day and be restricted to cleaning the kitchen and remaining at home. If he came back with half of the signatures, he would receive some of his privileges, which included limited time on the computer and some friend time. If he came home with all of the signatures, he had free time after chores.

In order to make this work, parents had to contact his teachers, explain this process and monitor him for the first few weeks. They would also contact teachers and the school to verify attendance everyday for the first week to be sure what their son was reporting was what was happening. The school was very supportive. As time progressed, the parents would check less and less as this became a habit.

Eventually this became a habit for this young man. Attending classes was easy and the parents felt he progressed enough to move to a new behavior. The chore chart then changed to having the same tracking sheet everyday but would include the the teacher signing if there was homework assigned for that night or if there was missing assignments. The teachers would simply sign their name and put the initials, “HA” or “MA” on the form. Parents could then follow up when their son returned home with his sheet.

While some may argue this may not be a chore chart, it actually is. It is a chore the child had to accomplish but it was focused on shaping his behavior. You can do this as well. Just define the behavior you want your child to develop into a habit and implement a chore chart to make it happen. Be creative.

6 ways to make chore charts work:

  1. Determine the behavior you want your child to develop into a habit.
  2. Make the “chore” something challenging but doable.
  3. Be descriptive and specific on what they should do.
  4. Have a reward that is equal to the task.
  5. Have a time limit. (i.e., something done daily)
  6. Have your child be in charge of reporting on accomplishments daily. Your child will be more accountable for themselves this way.

Common struggles parents experience using chore charts include: feeling exhausted keeping track of it all, an overwhelmed child that refuses to do it, and remembering to do it everyday.

Using the steps above and working on something your child can do but isn’t so hard your child gives up will help you implement these well.

TIP: A printed chore chart also allows you to make copies that you can put up in your kitchen, in the bathroom, on the wall, in the car, by the door as a constant reminder for you and your child that you are working on something together.

The additional parenting skills of Effective Communication on the Smarter Parenting website will also be helpful for you as you use these techniques.

Let us know if you have any questions or comments and we would love to know how chore charts help you.

Siope Kinikini

I’m a dad. I enjoy being a dad. I like things to do things that are challenging as well. I’m especially fond of mint-chocolate chip ice cream.

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