Monday, April 30, 2007

The Sticker Chart and the Chores

Once again, the sticker chart has worked.

A few weeks ago, I was at the end of my rope dealing with attitude. Specifically, with the attitude I received every time I asked anybody under the age of 11 to do anything with the slightest relationship to maintaining the household.

"E, could you please set the table?"

"But it's M's turn. I did it yesterday. She never does it!"

"M, could you please pick up your clothes from the floor."


I'd had it. It was time to take action. I announced that we were going to make chore charts. Each girl would devise her own list of daily and weekly chores with me. We're not talking saving money on the housecleaner here (ha! as if there was a housecleaner around here) (hmm, can I save money on myself?). We're talking assigned nights for each girl to set and clear the table (alternating every other night, with the night off on Friday when we usually go out for dinner) (this is useful, because in fact we not infrequently will eat at a friend's or miss dinner somehow, so the old system of just plain alternating nights, rather than assigning them, was a major cause of arguments over who did what when). Also putting dirty clothes in the laundry (rather than on the floor), cleaning their room every weekend, opening the shades in the morning (E), closing the shades at night (M), helping fold laundry and doing the recycling (M--yes, her list has more than E's, but she's 10 and E is 6, and M did bupkis when she was 6, so everyone calmed down about that).

How has it worked? Fabulously. And it has nothing to do with a reward. We made a month's worth of spaces on the sticker chart, but we left it vague as to what would happen when the chart was full, though there were intimations--mainly from the children--of a treat (yes, we are the terrible sticker-chart-rule-breaking parents who use food for rewards, but we're food people, for goodness sake, and we have stick-like children who need to be forced to eat--somebody can smite me down if their body types change with adolescence and we regret it). Anyway, the reward wasn't the point; it was the ritual.

What has happened is that the onus for the chores has shifted from me to the chart. They know what is expected of them, so it's no longer Mommy the Witch Woman forcing them to abandon their books and dolls to labor in the salt mines. It's the thing that they are expected to do, and I still need to remind them, but they just do it. If they remember to check the chart themselves, that's gravy for me, and if they remember to put up their sticker, that's their gravy.

And if it costs us an ice cream sundae a month, well, that's fine too.

(Interestingly, this is how most of our sticker charts have worked. We've only done a few, but generally the stickers have been abandoned quickly, while the desired behavior has persisted.)

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