Over the past few years, one of the most requested topics on my speaking circuit has been a lesson in which I list a hundred ideas for training our kids to be servants. Service oriented kids grow up to be productive adult servants in the kingdom and it’s those people to whom the Lord will say, “Come ye blessed of my Father,” according to Matthew 25. So it matters if I’m making a real effort, as a mom, to put the heart of a servant in my child. For this reason, I’ve decided to devote a post, every now and then, to a service suggestion—a simple idea for moms to make their homes busy service centers for young hearts and hands. I’d love to hear from those of you who try them. So here goes:
Refrigerator Chore List
Now every good family has a refrigerator chore list. Without that list the van would never get cleaned out, the kitchen floor wouldn’t get its nightly sweeping and certainly the kids’ beds would never be made. Sometimes the list is a chart that gets lots of checkmarks or stickers. Now it would be silly for me to explain how to make a chore list and how to dole out little rewards for jobs well done. So I won’t. You know the creative-mom kinds of things you do to help positively reinforce the virtues of diligence, responsibility and a good work ethic. Usually a good dose of parental respect is thrown into the reward system as well (i.e. the job gets done with no complaining or sassing). This list is not a new concept and you’re probably already doing it if anyone in your house besides Mom and Dad is not paying rent.
It’s just a few of the pointers we learned the slower, harder way that I would like to consolidate for moms today. Hope they are helpful:
- Don’t pay cash for chores. Have small rewards for jobs well-done. Have an allowance that comes each week that’s just contingent on good behavior, but don’t make the allowance be “pay” for chores done. The jobs that a child does to “pitch in” are part of the responsibility that comes when you are a part of a functional family. Everybody gets the family privileges. Everybody’s in the elite group that loves and respects one another. So everybody pulls his/her own weight. It’s just part of the territory. Everyone in the family is important and part of each individual’s importance is her contribution in hard work.
- Start your kids off on the “chore list” before they can read. Draw pictures. A kitten and a bowl means “feed the cat.” A dust cloth and a bed means “dust your bedroom.”
- Make sure all jobs are age appropriate and that they get harder as the child gets older. For younger kids, you will have to spend more time showing them how to do the job, each time a new one is assigned, than if you just did it yourself. But that patience and diligence in teaching is a big part of a parent’s job.
- Make an extra copy of the chore list in case the one on the frig “goes missing.”
- Do not let a single day go by without chore accountability. Kids “get it” if you’re forgetting about chores. They will absolutely not remember the chores if Mom doesn’t.
- Even for all our joy in positive re-enforcement, there have to be some specified negative consequences if the positive rewards are insufficient to motivate. Don’t increase the reward if you see laziness. This can get you in very deep, very fast. You cannot afford it. Instead, make the negative consequences severe enough that the child really wants to avoid them ever occurring again. (If the seven-year-old fails to sweep the kitchen, then let her sweep the whole house. If the thirteen-year-old fails to get her ball gear from the van after practice, make her go to practice for the next two weeks without the gear….You know–stuff they won’t forget quickly.) “This concept sounds so mean,” you may be thinking. But, in the long run, it’s the loving way to prepare kids for adult responsibilities. It breeds success.
- Mom and Dad must be on the same page about chores and both must be enforcers with the buck for all family discipline stopping with the father. Both parents must also be exhibiting an excellent work ethic for kids to emulate. Neither can be couch potatoes.
- Never, never, never fail to carry through with both the positive reward promised and any negative consequences threatened. Second chances without promised consequences are usually counterproductive to your goals.
- Many families with multiple kids like to swap up the responsibilities weekly or monthly, to avoid monotony. Just be sure you keep a current list up, so kids can’t pull the “I was confused” card. Magnets on a dry-erase board help with mixing up the responsibilities, because, rather than making a whole new list, you can just move the magnets (with chores written on them) around to align with different kids’ names. You can do the same thing with chores written on clothespins and move the pins around on your kids’ strings. Clothespins are good, too, because small hands like to move clothespins to the “basket” on the kitchen counter when they complete a chore. (Kids love manipulative skills.) Of course computer lists are always good, too, for moving chores around on a chart because you can cut, copy, paste and reprint. (But, I said I was not going to tell you how to do stuff you already know how to do!)
- Be sure your kids hear you praise them verbally for jobs well done and that they also hear you pray for their individual work ethics. Pray that the small things you are doing in your home will result in big opportunities of service for them in the kingdom and that, ultimately, more souls can be in heaven as a result of your family and the service you are training those kids to do.
(Oh, and if your teens can fund a trip to the movies with friends, but can’t keep their rooms clean, an in-house, income-based rent program sounds like a good idea to me, at least until the rooms are back in shape.)