Praise, Demerits, and Other Ways to Get Your Kids to Clean Their Rooms

An old post resurrected.

Eventually, I think, you want to be able to quit actually telling your kids what needs to be done. Most of the chores have to be done every day, some every week, and some only now and then, but the kids should be able to get it done with out too much adult supervision. At least in theory. Chores have not been going very well around here. If they get done, they’re sloppy, and I probably had to nag to get that sloppy work done. Not very fun for me or the children.

One idea I read once (its not mine, but I don’t remember who the credit belongs too!) is the sandwich principle. If you have to criticize, sandwich it between two compliments, even if you have to really stretch it. Example: I like your shirt! This living room floor is a disaster, but the ceiling looks great! This is amazingly effective, when I remember to do it, which is less often than I’d hope. All those compliments get them primed to take care of that other thing without feeling picked on.

But what to do when your sweet little daughter NEVER remembers to run the disposal after loading the dishwasher and leaves a big, nasty, slimy pile of unwanted food in the sink? Well, for now, I’m trying demerits. They all have a base allowance, and they only get demerits (which cost a quarter) for stuff I’ve been nagging them about anyway. Not random stuff I make up on the spot. However, they can get credits for anything: good behavior at church, doing something outside their normal responsibilities, being kind to a difficult sibling, etc. This gives me a lot more reasons to award credits than demerits, at least I hope. Already, they have plans for tomorrow to make up for today’s demerits. I guess a smaller allowance, and the potential for a larger one, is more motivation than anything else!

The last thing kids need to be successful workers is clear expectations of what needs to be done. Enter the chore chart. Yesterday, I made charts for all the rooms (illustrated for non-readers and laminated for durability), with daily chores and weekly chores assigned to a day. That makes it pretty easy, I think. For example, in the children’s bedrooms: every day, they must make their beds, put away clean laundry, and floors must be picked up by bedtime. In addition, they do one weekly chore, like change sheets, clean under bed, straighten one closet shelf, etc. Now, this isn’t magic. A wise lady I once knew put it best: Don’t expect what you can’t inspect! Mom has to check to see that it actually got done, and that it got done well. Still, it gives the little ones a visual aid and makes a world of difference!

Tweak: I had resisted tying chores to allowance for some time. However, this credit/demerit system is a really great compromise. I believe the children should do certain chores simply because they are part of the family. They are required to keep their rooms neat, to help keep the living room tidy, and to help clean up the kitchen after meals. Demerits are given when these chores are not completed. Credits are given for extra work, and it is in this area that the current system is weak. The children don’t know what to do to get those extra credits. I have thought of a way to give the kids more control and to ease my burden: an extra chore chart. What this will probably amount to is a 3X5 index card for each job. These will be jobs which I find unpleasant, but which the kids are perfectly capable of doing, like straightening the broom closet, cleaning out the trash can cupboard, and scooping ashes out of the fireplace. When one child is feeling motivated, she can easily choose a job to do and report to me when finished for an inspection and her reward. Voila! Cleaner house, happy kids, happier mom.

Update: Not all children care to have extra money, so we offered the children a selection of prizes they could earn with their credits, and that has been very popular!  Two credits for bubbles in the bath, four for the right to pick the Saturday night movie… brainstorm with the kids about treats they’d like, and assign credits appropriately.  I’d suggest no more than four, though, so that the prize is attainable.

1 Comment

  1. I will be putting my thinking cap on for my own system now! How do you keep track/where do record demerits?

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