Thursday, July 2, 2009

Chores n “Stuff"

You asked and I’m pondering...God knows we moms are always doing the best we can and that none of us are perfect. Somehow though, we keep trying for it and feel that we should always be better than we are. In the meantime, while beating ourselves up, we seem to isolate ourselves from one another, criticizing, judging, and pulling back when we should be reaching out. For those of you that have asked what it is that I’m doing to keep my three on task, I say: be tenacious, be full of heart, be well intentioned, be willing to be imperfect and flawed, be consistent, be flexible, be amused, delighted, sad and joyful, but never give up. We would like to think that we have given our children the best start in life possible, but the truth is, we will all have to wait another 15-20 or more to find out from them. For now, each day is a new day…
It used to be that when the kids were very young, everything in the house had to have “picture labels on it.” Everywhere we looked there was a laminated photo of something with the printed word underneath. This just made sense to me – If I wanted them to start being responsible for their world, I had to give everything a place and a name. In turn, it helped me A LOT!
Later as they became “little people,” we progressed to actual “chores” and we started with a basic chart that was poster-size and filled with colors to get their attention. Put-off by all those mini-charts that seemed to “old” for my little ones, I bought some supplies and got to making my own.

What we did was this: We took the poster and divided it up into daily activities they needed to do or learn. We found clip art and took photos of them doing those things and then placed them on a line in the left column with the printed words beside them. It was a natural transition to the labels they had already become used to. This time though, they could see the things on the left column that they needed to do IN ORDER , from wake up and make my bed, all the way down to bedtime. And what we did on the right is have one column for each child (headed by their name) going downward, parallel to the chores. Then on each coordinating square, we placed adhesive Velcro patches/circles (Walmart or other craft store) and stuck the opposite Velcro patch onto the back of little laminated photos of each child’s face. In this way, they could move down to the end of the day by themselves, knowing what to count on and what to expect. For incentives, I highlighted in bright colors, certain squares along the way, that represented a reward. The rewards were simple ones and part of the reward was just getting to choose: A special 15 minutes alone with mom, 30 minutes of TV viewing, 30 minutes of crafting time, or select something from a prize bin. (I collected these from dollar stores and from

As the kids grew even more mature and showed the ability, we added chores and changes around our daily schedule to meet their social demands and (eventually) my return to work, but essentially we all work off the same chore list now – a smaller one that they can all read and understand (without the colorful pictures). It is the same thing - just “grown up.”
What we are doing now is: The main chart or “master list” is placed in a clear acrylic frame that stays on the fridge with a Velcro attached Expo marker (that way we can write on the acrylic frame and wipe clean at the end of the day for re-use). The master list has two variations: Chore List I and Chore List II – We do two weeks on one than rotate two weeks on the other. The kids each carry their own laminated copies around the house as they do their chores (but their copies only have their individual tasks on them) and are two sided so they can switch to the chore list we are currently working on (I or II). Also, each child’s laminated copy has it’s own Expo marker Velcro attached so they can re-use at the start of each new day by wiping it clean. I keep the week’s “tally” of tasks completed on the fridge’s master list. Sounds complicated, but once established, is a very smooth, basic system and super easy for kids that are accustomed to a schedule or are in need of a drastic switch to one because it gives them a lot of independence.

For rewards in children older than 4 or 5, I have found that their “motivators” are easier to identify and utilize. All of my children have been TV and computer restricted since early age so that is a coveted special privilege that we can easily hold over them, particularly the boys. In addition, our daughter hates to be alone and craves attention, so exclusive time, or events with her friends are a strong playing card. In addition, they all love to earn money and spend it. Since we do not have a lot to give out, we keep allowance small, but realize that they must practice for the real world, sooner rather than later. Accounting for that, a calculated percentage of every earned allowance must go into the bank at the end of each week, the remainder of which, is theirs to spend or save at will, to make mistakes and learn from them, to feel good about wise spending, to feel disappointed with unwise spending and so on…

The Summers and Weekends are the toughest transition of all and I intentionally leave no “plan” on these occasions because they cannot be planned. That is right “expect the unexpected.” We like to use a variation of our school year "program" but with weekly goals rather than daily chores. Believe it or not - our kids demanded it after waking up and realizing there was no school and no more rewards to earn, LOL ...Go figure!

For Parents Just Starting Out & Looking For a “Non-Schedule” Routine To Stop the Baby-Craziness

We started a routine/schedule (in its basic form) when Nate was born. Even though I nursed "on demand" every day had a similar pattern with relative time frames for wake up, meals, nap, & bedtime.Whatever changes or spontaneous activities came up, we  always kept to this simplistic framework below.

For example:
-Wake up between 7-8am
-Errands, Playtime/Cleanup or Playdate-group Sometime Between 8-10am
-Snack around 10am (you too - healthy ones)
-Errands, Playtime/Cleanup or Playdate-group Sometime Between 10-Noon
-Lunch Between 12-1pm (you too - healthy one)
-Naptime 1-3pm (Have comfort "thing" just beforehand to signal naptime - Something you can do anywhere Like a Story You Can Keep With You or a Prayer)
-PM Snack Around 3-4pm (you too - healthy ones)
-Errands, Playtime/Cleanup or Playdate-group Sometime Between 3-6pm
-Dinner Around 6pm/No later than 7pm (everyone must help make, eat together and clean up as family)
-Make Bedtime Routine Between 7-8pm (Something You can Do Anywhere Like: Brush Teeth, Say Prayer/Sing Song with or without a Bath)
-Bedtime (No later than 8pm no Matter Where You Are)

...So you can move around this type of schedule easily wherever you are - always keeping in mind to have your car stocked with: Extra Pack n' Play or Sleeping Mat n' Blanket, Umbrella Stroller and "Go Bag." 

Your "Go Bag" Should always be by the door and include: 
-2 Changes of Clothes (one warm/one cold with small jacket)
-2-3 Comfort Items such as stuffed animal, blanket, favorite story, etc
-Extra Wipes
-Disposable Plastic Bags
-First Aid Kit with Dry Ice Cold Pack
-Sanitizing Spray
-Some Dry Snacks
-Bottled Water(s) and an Empty Sippy Cup
-(maybe extra baby monitor)
-(In Season) Swimsuit, Hat, Sunblock, Bug Spray

Once armed with this system, you can give the kids and you "something to count on" and for "daddy", the gift of your "date time" between 8-10pm (no little people, family or friends can visit during this two hour "date time" during the week unless one of you is working late and not home). Mom and Dad must be in bed together after that - It's "The Rule." It will be hard to hear the children cry for you so answer them, go to them, rub their heads and rock them, nurse them, but do not stay or lay down with them - just keep coming back all night for three nights until it is done. In this way, they still feel very loved and reassured while you remain firm and in control.

It may take awhile for your little ones to get used to this new set of restrictions but It will most likely be harder for you than them. The babies will do whatever they are used to and what becomes soothing to them, so the sooner you get on what we now refer to as "the program" , the sooner everyone will follow suit. Babies love a routine to count on too.

This does not mean that you cannot be spontaneous and go about whatever you need to do or work - just...
1) Insist that childcare provider understands & maintains your "schedule" wherever you are and have them journal everything so you can feel included at the end of the day and will also know what your children ate and when (so you can keep track of overall nutrition). It should only take the provider a few seconds to jot this stuff down and is not a strange request. 
2) When enjoying a day home, just follow the plan and be sure to always keep your "Go Bag" and car ready so you can tell your little ones "Now today we are doing this... so you will need to nap here in the car (or wherever) because it is naptime and we will be out ...Would you like to read our special story to you now? ...Can I lay your seat back and get your special blanket?" (you get the picture - can be switched to stroller, etc.) It is to be explained even to children too young to understand words and must be reinforced with "'s naptime remember?...No talking now ...It's time for quiet until mommy says it's time to get up." They will get it soon enough if you stay consistent and believe me, mine have really tested that theory and still do. It seems like they have iron will during tantrums and it can be embarrassing but be strong.
3) Or alternatively, if you are out late and must do bedtime elsewhere, just stick to the routine and ask the host/hostess where you may put her down that is quiet and darker and either bring a monitor or ask them ahead of time if they have one you can borrow and set up so that after you have gone through the routine, you can enjoy the adult company without a sleepy baby(s).

It won't be long before everyone looks forward to the security of a routine they can all depend on and plan activities around. By the time you are ready to begin a "picture schedule" like the one above at top (age 2-3yrs), your little ones will only have the transition of seeing what they already do/are used to, will (hopefully) be showing initiative in helping with daily tasks, and very much will like the fun of controlling "it all" by moving their face photo(s) around the board to earn praise or rewards. (can also incorporate potty training into that one - yippeee!)

DISCLAIMER: These are just a few of the things that have worked for us and will not be appropriate for everyone. Further, we are not child psychologists or doctors and can only pass on what we know as parents, but those suggestions made here are non-professional opinions only.

Hope this is helpful and best wishes to all those hard-working parents I admire so much!

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