Do you use a chore chart with your kids?

The research is absolutely divided on this. (More divided than usual.) It boils down, as does so much of child rearing, to the scientifically sound advice to “do what works for you and your kid.” But as any good scientist would, I had to experiment.

Anna is almost four, a good age to introduce the chore chart, if we’re going to use one. It has appeal: visual and concrete, it should help her internalize life’s little habits, the building blocks of hygiene, nutrition, housekeeping. By five, the wisdom goes, she should be managing simple routines without nagging. This article sums up this approach well:

Incentives are one of the most effective ways to teach children responsibility because they allow children to associate such tasks with a concrete reward. A healthy treat or stickers are affordable and easy rewards. A chore chart can be used to help children see their accomplishments. —

I made a pretty little chart, with the recommended number of categories for her age, things like eating her vegetables and getting the placemats and napkins for the table and staying put after going to bed. I found some sparkly stickers and set her reward — a much coveted Ariel doll — on top of her dresser. We debuted her chore chart Saturday morning.

We shredded it Sunday night.

By 10 AM that day she’d dumped her toy bin and cleaned it up again four times, eaten half a bag of carrots, brushed her teeth seven times and was back in her pajamas, snuggled under the covers, waving her completed chore chart. A week’s chores in three hours.

We spent the day explaining how it worked, that she got one sticker a day for each category. Our explanations could not breach the barrier of her preschooler logic:

“Don’t I get a sticker for every carrot?”

“I should get a sticker for every carrot.”

“But why don’t I get a sticker for every carrot?”

“How many stickers do I get if I eat your carrots, too?”

“I should get stickers for Teddy Grahams. I ate a lot of Teddy Grahams today. And that other day.”

“I will wash my hands. IF I can get a sticker.”

“I’m ready for my Ariel doll now.”

“There. I brushed my teeth. Now?”

“Look at me. Look at me! LOOK at me! I even put my toothbrush away. NOW?”

“But I go potty all the time. I should get stickers for that. And two for wiping, remember? Why don’t we do that anymore?”

“I don’t want to go to the playground. I want to stay here and earn my Ariel doll.”

“Can I nap with her in my bed? I won’t play with her. I’ll just dream about her.”

“But how can I clean up my toys if you won’t let me mess them up again?”

“What else can I do to earn my Ariel doll? Whatelse whatelse whatelse whatelse whatelse?”

“What if I just hold her a minute.”

“I’m ready for my Ariel doll now, PLEASE.”

Mistake number 1: we showed her the reward. I thought it would make it more concrete if she knew what she was working toward. Instead, it made her crazy.

Mistake number 2: we didn’t anticipate ways her problem-solving skills could challenge our scheme. It hadn’t occurred to me that it would occur to her to dump her toy bin over and over and over so she could clean it up over and over and over.

And she is guileless, I believe, not so much scheming as trying earnestly to understand how this system works so she can employ it to best advantage. She thinks she’s an efficiency expert, a champion capitalist, why earn $1 when you can earn $100. Somewhere in there she’s beginning to grasp the art of the con, of course, but she’s not quite there yet.

Of course my mother laughed and my sister groaned and cooler heads prevailed, arguing that she should do chores not for rewards but because she, you know, lives here. Like these folks suggest.

I’m with them. And the chore chart? Forgotten already.

Published in: on July 1, 2010 at 6:35 AM  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hi Mommy, PHD,

    Your depiction of your daughter’s response to the chore chart made me laugh out loud. You’ve got quite a character on your hands there! 😉

    Since all kids and all families are different, there’s unfortunately no “one size fits all” solution to getting kids involved around the house. With my own boys (5 & 7) we had to cycle through a number of strategies before we stumbled upon a chore chart that incorporates competition – that has been magic for us!

    If you’re looking for more tips and approaches to try, I hope you’ll check out our “Chores” resource center. It’s got tons of great information. (


  2. I LOVE this! That child of yours is very clever indeed – she’s hilarious too! Mine hasn’t figured out the loopholes of his chart, maybe we should keep them apart so she doesn’t teach him all of her tricks.

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