Chore Chart Life Lessons. For Kids. And Moms.


Emily loves to be a helper. She shows interest in cooking, laundry, cleaning, etc. All the things she’s probably going to despise as soon as she’s no longer a preschooler.

Let’s face it – I’m no fan of those things either! But I know that now is the time to form good habits while she still likes to help.

It’s also time she learned to put away her toys every single night – not just sometimes, and not just when it’s convenient for me to enforce the rules.

Because. I. Am. Tired. Of. The. Mess.

I hate to admit that often it was my fault when she didn’t put her toys away. (Just don’t tell her that!) Children need reminded of the routine; after all, she’s 4 years old.

Some nights I’d rather give her extra time to play. Or if I see her getting too tired, I know it would be less painful (with far less drama) if I put the toys away myself after she went to bed.

I would rationalize that I’m a working mom, and I want to spend quality time with her – like playing until bedtime instead of cleaning up. Because I could do it faster anyway later.

But…I’m not doing my job as a mom when I take the easy way out.

It’s easier to clean up after her. It’s less frustrating to clean up after her.

But my job as Emily’s mother is not to clean up after her. It’s to teach her how to pick up after herself, and how to help others.

I see chores as more than simple acts of just sweeping the floor or putting laundry away in the dresser. They’re the seeds of some important life lessons. A few age-appropriate chores can teach your children a lot in just a few minutes every week.

Lesson #1: Responsibility for your own actions

Play with a toy, put it away. Make a mess, clean it up. Maybe someone will help you, maybe they won’t. You learn to do it yourself. Unless you hit the lottery and hire a full-time maid (and I’m still praying for that ship to come in), chances are pretty good that you need this skill to function as an adult.

Lesson #2: Responsibility/respect for others

As part of the family, kids should have responsibility for caring for their home and the things in it (besides, they make at least 75% of the mess). If they don’t clean up after themselves, then Mom does it. Which means other stuff doesn’t get done. Because there are only so many hours in the day.

Lesson #3: Work ethic

If you work hard at something, you will be rewarded. With pride in a job well done, as well as maybe a small allowance. And a mother who doesn’t get mad as much.

The Chore Board

Last year I found some great jeweled flower magnets at the dollar store. I scooped them up not knowing what I’d use them for. One $5 magnetic board later and I was in chore board heaven.

Or was I? What on earth was I getting Jeff and I into…

I wanted to make Emily’s chores visual for her, so I took photos of what Jeff and I wanted her to do each week. I laminated the days of the week and the chore photos with my Purple Cow laminator (love it!). The last photo is not so much a chore as it is behavior that we’re trying to modify. Trying.

Here’s a closer look:

We tried to balance a few everyday chores with a few that are just once or twice each week. And a mix of things she likes to do with things she doesn’t like to do. Because we don’t always like what we have to get done.

Help with laundry – Like. Clean up toys – Not so much.

If Emily completes her chores, she gets a small allowance at the end of the week. If she listens fairly well all week, I have a “treasure box” that she can choose something from. It’s full of inexpensive items that I know she’d love to have, so it should be good incentive.

Should be.

But I think girlfriend has forgotten what is in that treasure box.  Because it has been that long since she’s actually gotten something out of it!

Okay. Let’s put aside the fact that I’m bribing my child (by the way, I’m okay with that). We’ve been doing this for four months now. Chores go fine as long as we continually remind her to get them done. Continually. (But she’s 4. We’re sowing seeds here; it’s a process).

“Being a Good Listener” is where we have struggled. Seriously. Struggled.

And I know I’m not alone.

I quickly found that a weekly incentive was Just Not Working. In hindsight, she may be too young for that. (Oh well. I never said I was an early childhood education rock star…)

So I added a small daily incentive that I could also use to remind her about if she wasn’t listening to me. If she had a great listening day, she could end the day with a bubble bath, bath fizzies or a light show at bathtime – her choice. And listening all week long still netted something out of the treasure box. Which worked. For a few weeks.

Then we had a stretch of quite a few bad listening weeks.

Painful. Long. Stretch.

Did I mention it was long? And painful?

After I got my normal voice back and put my yelling voice away, I’m back to trying a variation on the “daily incentive” method.

It’s working. (Umm, so far?)

The variation? Variety. My theory is that if you keep repeating a reward often, it isn’t as special anymore. Not something to look forward to as much. Bubble bath? That is so last night. No big deal.

During the last week, some of our rewards included: putting Easter window clings on the sliding glass door, shopping at Target (shhh – mommy had to do that one anyway), riding the train at the mall, a snowball “fight” (otherwise known as tossing powdery snow that won’t stick at each other) and a movie night at home complete with popcorn.

Just about every day it worked.

Just about.

Rumor has it there was some bad birthday party listening on Saturday followed by a meltdown. But I was at home busy painting Emily’s “big girl” room while her daddy was allegedly witnessing that… So we’ll pretend my new approach was an amazing success story all the way through. (just kidding Jeff)

The funny thing about all this teaching of life lessons, is that you are learning a few yourself during the process.

In all seriousness, I really have learned a few things while trying to teach my daughter about responsibility and listening.

Real Mom Life Lesson #1: Yelling rarely helps.

Get their attention some other way. Make it a conversation. Turn off the TV. Move directly into her line of sight, inches from her face and speak softly. Yelling shuts kids down, hurts feelings, digs in heels and starts tears flowing. Even worse, yelling tells them that it’s okay to yell. When really, there are only a few times they should – like yelling for help or to prevent someone from getting hurt. Otherwise, yelling just plain hurts.

And if done in the morning while trying to rush them…then Good Freaking Luck…it is all over. You just upgraded from A Little Late to Very Late, slowing yourself down an extra 15 minutes while you try to make up for being a big mean mommy. For real. Trust me on this. And some people like me  make that mistake way too often even after they’ve learned this lesson.

Real Mom Life Lesson #2: Making it fun or into a game gets better results from a preschooler or toddler.

Your preschooler doesn’t want to clean up her toys? Make it a race and say that you’re going to win. See who can pick up the most toys in 10 minutes. Start a pillow fight. Do something unexpected. Sing a crazy song. Loudly. Out of tune. Get out your tickle fingers. Distract them. Anything to defuse the tension and get them moving. 

But don’t set a timer. Timers are NOT fun. And usually bring about the same behavior that yelling does. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Real Mom Life Lesson #3: Relax. Let go of what’s not really important. Say “yes” more often.

Does it matter if she swept every corner of the floor? She’s 4 and she made the effort. Skill and efficiency will come later. She wants to wear a tiara at Target? Shoes that don’t even remotely match her clothing?  Whatever it is, as long as it’s not a safety issue and no major rules are getting broken, it’s probably fine. Although there is a time and a place for everything. Picture day? Not likely. But before I say no, I try to make sure I really have a good reason for saying no.

Real Mom Life Lesson #4: Listen to them. Talk to them (not at them). If you expect them to listen and talk to you.

When you are teaching them to be good listeners, you have to be one yourself. Although when I’ve been called upstairs after bedtime for the 3rd time in 20 minutes, this one is hard to remember. But I do try to make an effort to listen to whatever ruse she’s using to get my attention to delay going to sleep. While she might be totally playing me (and I more than suspect that she is), I know that the best gift you can give someone is your undivided attention.

So I try to remember to listen – even at times like this. Because she won’t always need me quite as much as she does now. And because the things she wants to tell me matter to her. And because ten years from now, I want her to still be telling me everything. And still listening to me about the important stuff.

So hard as it may be some days, we’ll stick with the chores. They’ll teach my daughter how to be a good grown up one day. And day by day, it’ll make me a better mom.

But if my latest daily incentive program quits working, I’m going to need more tricks parenting tools up my sleeve. Got any good ones? Comment below and help a mother out.


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  1. Oh my goodness, to be a mom of only one…. :) Yelling does not work, but so hard with five… That lesson is hard for me. Lesson two worked when they were little. Singing the clean up song was the best, and Lesson three, I am a pro at that one. Spencer wore his peter pan shirt everywhere, and his cowboy boots… even in the summer with shorts.(drove Fran crazy)… Mikayla has worn a princess dress to the store. I didnt care as long as their face was clean… :) I still have problems with them doing chores at 16!! Loading and unloading the dish washer is soooooo hard…. lol.

    • Seashell says:

      And so hard for us to be patient while they are busy making big drama of those little things like dishwasher duty, isn’t it?!!! You aren’t exactly making me feel better here about it getting better any time soon! LOL!!!! But at least I know I’m not alone :)

  2. Oh, dont get discouraged at all…. Mikayla is the best at doing chores btw…. Boys not as much. Jarrett will help out when it his choice…. lol. Also, wanted to say I agree about not making sure you check the corners of the floor. I figure as long as it looks better, and no noticeable mess, I am happy with the effort. :)

    • Seashell says:

      Glad to hear Mikayla is the best at it – maybe Emily will be that way too. Okay, so that does make me feel a little better now :)

  3. Uhm, yeah, good luck with all that!

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