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Do chore charts really work?

Posted April 27

One week after I started new chore charts for my kids, I saw my friend post on Facebook this quote attributed to Simon C. Holland:

“No one is full of more false hope than a parent with a new chore chart."

A few days prior, we were at a friends’ house for an embarrassing family game night. My boys were all over the place, my baby cried the whole time, and Briggs kept looking at one of the sweet girls and saying, “You can’t come to my house.” I kept apologizing, and to everyone's relief, we eventually ended up calling it a night.

I cried the whole way home. I felt totally defeated. Texting my friend back and forth throughout the night, she gave me some encouragement and reassurance that she had been there, done that. Even though she was super sweet, I knew that it wasn’t as peaceful and fun as we had all hoped for, and I really want to be the kind of family that people are sad to see leave, not the kind that causes people to high-five each other after we walk out the door.

So I spent the next day on Pinterest researching the best chore charts. After looking at about 5,000 different kinds, from cookie sheets with each child's name written on magnets across the top to jars hanging from shiplap with warm fuzzies plopped inside, I became overwhelmed trying to decide which one would resonate most with my kids. Turns out there’s a lot of differing opinions out there on whether behavior charts are beneficial, but here’s what I’ve learned over the past two weeks: It doesn’t matter how simple or elaborate the chart is. They work!

I know some say that getting kids to “be good” at the store just to get a star on their chart or a fuzzy in their jar isn’t teaching them anything, but here’s the thing: They’re being good at the store! I can’t tell you how many times this week I looked at my little ones who grabbed something off the shelf at the grocery store or who were running at their brothers full speed ahead, ready to launch an attack, when I raised my eyebrow and simply said, “Star or check mark?” And just like that, they would stop and say, “I want a star!”

This has truly been miraculous because for me, trying to come up with discipline has been a challenge. Time out? Loss of privileges? No treats? A spank? What should I do and when, if at all? But seeing a star being stuck on a chart for good behavior has really done wonders for the peace in our home, as has seeing a big check mark for less than agreeable behavior.

I kept it simple and wrote down on a chart several behaviors that each boy is working on, and they either get a “star” when I notice they have done something well (coming to help the first time I ask, saying “OK” when I give them a “no” answer, trying to negotiate instead of hitting each other during playtime) or a check mark for unpleasant behavior (picking noses, screaming like a banshee, not flushing the toilet, and other loud or disgusting or naughty behavior.) The chore charts are simple: Put away your clothes, clear your plate, do your homework, wash your hands after coming inside, and complete your “chore of the week” (such as helping me fold and put away laundry, mop, pick up the car trash, etc.).

It’s been so sweet to see my boys going above and beyond, trying to earn more stars so they can get a treat or special privilege. And it really has improved the overall feeling and efficiency in our home.

For more information on what chores are best for your children’s ages and stages, read one of my all-time favorite books by Merrilee Boyack, “The Parenting Breakthrough: A Real-life Plan to Teach Your Kids to Work, Save Money and be Truly Independent.”

Happy delegating!

Carmen Rasmusen Herbert is a former "American Idol" contestant who writes about entertainment and family for the Deseret News.

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