Recently, at the dinner table, Gavin and Ethan were playing a game where they decided to be pirates. They talked about all the things they would do as pirates together and then Gavin said “What about Mum, who would she be?”. Ethan’s response was “She would be the lady who cleans the ship”. I stood up and left the table. It’s the first time I have ever been angry at something my 5 year old has said (bare in mind I’ve been angry at plenty of things he’s done in the past, but never really something he’s said). I know at first glance it may seem a bit irrational to get angry, but I have always wanted my boys to grow up with a healthy relationship towards women and this, felt like a step in the wrong direction. Team this with a few other incidents and we realised that his general assumption was that Mum cleans and we should sometimes ‘help her’. Obviously, this was not Ethan’s fault, but ours so we set about trying to course correct.
I was really uncomfortable at the thought of Ethan seeing me as the cleaning lady in the house. Gavin did a great job of explaining to him that we all live in the house and make the messes so it’s not my job solely to clean up after everyone. We also agreed to stop using the words ‘Help Mum’ as if it were a charitable task to contribute to the running the house (something I was guilty of too – “Come and help me clean up your playdough”). The idea was to encourage him – and his little brother eventually – to take responsibility and contribute to the housework. And we’ve found a genius way to do this, which has also been a sanity saver for me.
Before I delve into what’s working for us I should also point out that this was devised in order to resolve another issue we were having. The constant begging for screen time. Ethan would wake up and ask to watch TV or play Minecraft every single day. It was the first question I was greeted with when he came home from school and at night he would ask when he would get screen time the next day. I was getting frustrated at constantly assessing whether he’d had enough or if it was a good time for screen time. And it must have been hugely frustrating for him to constantly hear me say “We’ll see”. That old chestnut.
After a hunt about the internet I found Chore Sticks. And since we’ve implemented them, I have not looked back. The idea is that you buy a pack of lollipop sticks and write an age-appropriate chore on each stick. Then you have two pots (we have £2 toothbrush holders from The Range adhered to our kitchen wall – as you can see above), all of the sticks go in one and every day Ethan chooses two chore sticks. Once they’re done, he pops them in the other pot and has earned 30 mins of screen time. Super, super simple. And the whole thing cost less than a fiver.
I cannot begin to tell you how many micro stresses it has alleviated in our house. Ethan wakes up, picks two sticks and then completes his chores without a second thought. Then he banks his 30 mins screen time for after school. At weekends he still does chores but gets 1 hour of screen time for them. I no longer get quizzed on when screen time will be, he decides that for himself once his chores are done. It has gamified chores so Ethan is willingly contributing to the housework by doing tasks alone rather than ‘helping me’. We’ve also rolled pocket money into the mix.
Ethan needs to do two chores a day to get screentime and those two chores also earn him 50p. At the end of the week we count up how many chore sticks are in the done box and he gets pocket money accordingly. ie. 10 sticks = £5. Some days he’d rather be out in the street playing with his friends for longer than earn screen time, if that’s the case I’m happy to encourage it and let the chores slide. If he’s saving up for something special (currently, Minecraft Lego) then he has the choice to do more chore sticks and earn more money.
There is some debate online it seems about monetising chores for kids. Some would argue that they should be contributing to the household tasks without monetary reward and purely because they’re part of the family. However, we’re finding that Ethan is taking agency over completing his chores every day because he gets the instant gratification of screen time and also the knowledge that he’s saving towards something he wants. It’s working really, really well for us. It’s been weeks now and it hasn’t lost its shine. Tethering the tasks to something he wants every day like screen time, also makes it impossible to forget to implement. And we’ve found the physicality of moving sticks from the ‘to do’ box to the ‘done’ box is really engaging for him too. I also love the fact that the chores are predetermined so I don’t have to think about what he has to do. On that note, Ethan is 5 1/2 years old and here are some examples of the chores that he has (to give anyone interested an idea):
Examples of Chores
Wipe kitchen counters
Clear living room floor (there are also sticks for dining room, kitchen, bedrooms etc.)
Hoover hall (there’s one for each room of the house)
Wipe bathroom sink
Mop kitchen & utility room (there’s another stick for bathroom)
Put washing away
Wipe door handles
Clean up inside the car
Tidy utility room
I’ve also thrown a couple of fun ones in there like ‘Dance’ and ’10 mins extra screen time’. He pulled the latter stick recently and it may as well have been Christmas morning!
I’d love to know if your kids complete chores at home or if this is something you would try?
Also, how do you tackle the topic of pocket money, if at all?