articles / Family life

And snap! The jobs a game…


If you have kids, you know how difficult it can be to get them to clean up after themselves. You want them to pick up after themselves, but at some point you’re just tempted to do it yourself so it gets done.

Josiah has a list of responsibilities that he has to finish by the end of each day. These responsibilities include doing his schoolwork, picking up his toys out of every room, and he alternates a load of laundry and a load of dishes every other day.

It seems like every day I was nagging Josiah to get all of this done. By the end of the day, not only was it not done, but I was frustrated and he was tired. I’d started setting a timer and following through with taking away a privilege if he didn’t  get it done in time. After several days of going to bed early, no tablet, and more nagging and complaining — I discovered that wasn’t working. Twenty minutes of work was taking two or three hours!

So I got creative. Instead of setting a deadline by giving him a time limit and then taking away the tablet, I made it a race. The prize: Time on the tablet. I have a chart with every room in the house listed on it. He gets timed on how fast he can get his toys picked up in each room. For every room he cleans in less than 15 minutes, he gets 5 minutes on his tablet. That adds up to 25 minutes of tablet time a day maximum.

To up the ante, if Josiah beats his time in ALL rooms from the previous day, he gets unlimited tablet time (after his other chores are done first). Josiah is getting all of the toys picked up from every room AND cleaning his room each day in under 30 minutes.

I appealed to his competitive nature and chose to reward for good work instead of punishing for bad work.

Most days this works. Part of the rule is that all of the cleaning and school must be done by 5 p.m. everyday. That’s when his Dad starts heading home from work and I start dinner. If he doesn’t get everything done by 5 p.m. then he goes to bed early. It’s a good balance, in my opinion, of making it fun by offering reward and creating a deadline and having consequences.

I don’t spend a lot of time telling him to get it done. I tell him once in the morning that it needs to be done and I remind him around lunchtime and then I give him a 2-hour warning.

Like I said, some days this works. On the days that it doesn’t and he gets distracted and caught without his list done at 5 p.m. I hear things like, “You only gave me FIVE HOURS to do everything,” and “You just want me to go to bed early!”

It opens up the door for me to teach him in a gentle and non-nagging way about being responsible for himself — I will not always be there to make sure he does his work and neither will his future boss. It teaches him about choices. If he gets everything done in an early fashion, he gets rewarded for his good work with tablet time. If he gets distracted and chooses not to finish his work before playing, he has to go to bed early.

He gets mad when it reaches this point and he says things like, “I didn’t make a choice!!!” And that’s what I’m here for. To show him that even though he didn’t stop and think, “I’m just not going to do my work, I’m going to play all day and go to bed early,” he made a choice. Not only do his choices affect him, but they affect the rest of the family. When Josiah has to go to bed early, it prevents him from staying up and watching TV or playing a game with us after Samuel goes to bed.

I’ll be honest…

It’s hard not staying on top of him all day long about getting his stuff cleaned up, especially when I want it cleaned. It’s hard not saying, “You’re going to be upset when you have to go to bed early…” It’s super hard watching him cry because he has to go to bed at 8 p.m. when what he really wanted to do was play a game with us.

But I have to remind myself: He knew what he had to do, he knew how much time he had to do it, he knew what he had to gain by getting it done, and knew what he’d lose if he didn’t. He made a choice. Choices have rewards or consequences whether you’re 7, 17, 27, or 87.

This approach is fairly new for us so I’m anxious to see how things look this time next month. If I remember, I’ll post an update on how it’s going.


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