This is a true story.
Yesterday, my children were arguing about doing chores. Their argument went something like this:
Son: I get to clean the bathroom.
Daughter: If you get to clean the bathroom, then I get to make mom’s bed and vacuum the living room.
Son: That’s not fair. I want to make her bed! Mom, what other things can I do?
Me: You can fold the laundry, then put it away.
Son: Great! [to his sister] Ha, I get to do more than you!
Are you wondering whether I may have used the wrong words—should it have been “have to” instead of “going to,” “get to,” or—can you imagine—“WANT TO”? It’s not a typo. My children want to do chores! (I can’t stop smiling, and every once-in-a-while, I actually do a little dance). I have to say it again—in capital letters as if I am yelling from the rooftops—MY CHILDREN WANT TO DO CHORES!
The daughter I have raised for the last eleven years does not clean the house, she rarely helps out, and she always has an excuse as to why she is too busy to do the simplest thing. Even when I tell her to put her own clean clothes away, she grunts at me, rolls her eyes, and then drags herself down the hall only to throw them on her chair. Up until last week, I was completely alone in taking care of our house.
Then, I made a change.
In my last post, I wrote about the three things that I was going to focus on so that I could attain a sense of balance in my life. One of them was about providing structure and follow-through to my children. So, I came up with a plan, a system of reward and punishment that actually makes my children feel empowered—makes them feel that they are the ones in control.
This is how it works:
First I needed each of them to help me create a list of rules—basically a list of bad habits that drive me crazy. My son’s list included things like saying the words sucks, idiot, and dumb, as well as threatening his sister with physical violence. My daughter’s list included many things related to her interaction with her brother, such as invading his physical space—even hugging him without asking—, teasing him, and correcting or telling him what to do.
Once each list was complete, I grabbed some sticky-notes and began writing down times in 15-minute intervals: 9:00, 8:45, 8:30, 8:15, 8:00, and so on, until I reached 7:00. For my daughter, it started at 10:00. The first time listed is their actual bed time, every time after that is the time that they will go to bed if they break any of their rules. 1 broken rule = 15 minutes off their bedtime.
This is the punishment.
Here is the reward.
When my daughter started 6th grade earlier this year, she came home and explained to me about a system of reward that her teacher had developed. The teacher outlined a number of ways that students could earn “cash” that would be good toward things like extra credit, homework passes, and even lunch. My daughter loved it, and being the competitive girl that she is, she works hard to be the student with the most cash. This inspired my daughter to come up with the idea to do the same at home—she named it “Mommy Moolah.” Although she had this idea earlier in the school year, it took me until last week to finally pull it together.
This is how it works:
Each chore is worth a certain amount of “Mommy Moolah”—vacuuming (1); loading the dishwasher (4); cleaning the bathroom (3); folding the laundry (2). After either of them completes a chore, I sign off on it on a tracker. Then, when they have enough, they can turn it in for a reward—staying up an extra half hour (10); getting a movie from Redbox (20); picking my son/my daughter up from school and taking them to lunch (35); going to the movies (50).
I knew that losing their bedtime would ultimately deter them from breaking rules—and I hoped that over time they might actually get in the habit of behaving better—but I honestly didn’t know if getting them to clean the house would actually work. Maybe it wouldn’t have if it weren’t for making the decision to introduce both the punishment and the reward at the same time. Within one day, the kids had each lost at least thirty minutes of their bedtime, and when they realized that they would have to go to bed early, they immediately wanted to earn some “Mommy Moolah” to buy it back.
This has been going on all week. Each evening, I sit on the couch, lazily watching television, while both kids frantically look for more and more chores to do. It is a shocking—and beautiful—site.
This week, I’m linking up with Mama Kat’s Pretty Much World Famous Writing Prompts—Create an “instructional” post where you show readers how to do something cool!