On Instagram recently, I shared one of my best parenting hacks related to kids and chores in a Friday introduction. One friend and follower asked for a more detailed explanation, and I decided it was worth writing about in detail.
On the surface, a parenting hacks post doesn’t seem related to self-care at all but hang with me (especially if you’re a parent!).
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not much of a housekeeper. I really hate cleaning and picking up, so in our home we attempt to stick to a baseline clean. But our house boasts cluttered surfaces and dusty shelves aplenty.
However, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how my surroundings affect my mental health and happiness. After I’ve tidied a space, I feel calmer, even if I didn’t feel particularly anxious before tidying.
But I’m one of five people in this house, and I’m not even the messiest one living here! My kids are capable (at 10, 8, and 5) of pitching in and helping keep the house clean and tidy. I need their help because, with my work, I don’t have the time or energy to do all the cleaning. Plus, since our ultimate goal is to raise independent, contributing adults, I want them to learn how to clean.
This is the system that’s been working for us for the last five or six months.
You can call these Dollar Store white boards whatever you want—morning boards, chore boards, morning responsibilities, whatever. I generally just refer to them as “boards.” We bought four at the Dollar Store a while back. They are magnetic, which I like (but isn’t necessary) and they each came with a clip-on dry-erase marker. (But Expo markers are worth the splurge.)
On school mornings, I wake up before my kids and fill out their boards. I set their board at their place at the dining table so they can review it while they eat breakfast.
Each of my kids has their own board and—pro tip—I write their name in permanent marker on the morning board*. That way, I can tell who has finished their chores and turned in their board.
Every morning, I write my kids’ school morning responsibilities** on their boards: eat breakfast, brush your teeth, brush your hair, pack your backpack, put on shoes.
Now that we’ve been doing boards for several months, I write in shorthand: breakfast, teeth/hair, backpack, shoes. I draw pictures for my five-year-old, who is still an emerging reader.
In addition to their getting-ready responsibilities, my kids have two chores: put away their clean laundry, plus one additional chore. That chore changes daily. If they stay on task, the kids can complete their chores in 10-20 minutes.
Because they carry the morning boards with them to help them stay focused, the boards sometimes get lost upstairs. To avoid this, I now add “Turn in board” at the bottom of their list. They only receive their allowance after they’ve returned their board to me.
My kids have been doing chores regularly for a year and a half. (We started at the beginning of the pandemic, when everyone was suddenly home all the time. I was overwhelmed by the mess!)
I switch my kids’ chores up seasonally. Each season I make a new chore chart and laminate it. (Enneagram One here!) Every Monday they have the same chore, and so on throughout the week. When I create a new chore chart, I allow each of my kids to tell me one chore they don’t want on their chart for the next season, and I try to honor that. (But they also understand that there will be things they don’t enjoy on their chore chart. That’s part of life, and part of living together as a family; everyone pitches in.)
When I assign new chores, I make sure my kids know how I expect them to do it properly. That includes making sure they know what tools or cleaning supplies to use, and where those are located. It also includes making sure they put away their cleaning supplies. Depending on your kids’ age, they might need a lot of handholding, reminders, and coaching, especially in the beginning.
You can scour Pinterest for age-appropriate chores. Your kids’ may surprise you with their abilities; my 5-year-old cleans the windows and scrubs the toilets once a week.
Does a day ever pass that at least one kid doesn’t complain or drag their feet about completing their chores? Nope. That’s okay. I remind them that this is part of what it means to be in a family. (I also remind them that they get paid for completing their chores, but I don’t!)
Chores During the School Year Vs. Summer
We started using our boards when school let out for the summer. We’ve tried chore charts and chore cards, but it seems to really help my kids to have something tactile that they can erase as they go.
This summer, in addition to getting ready, my kids put their laundry away and did two additional chores. They finished their boards before they received their allowance or enjoyed screen time or play time with friends. (Since we often have playdates or other plans in the summer, that’s a huge motivator for finishing their board!)
My kids’ elementary school doesn’t start until 9 a.m.; we leave the house at 8:30, and my kids wake up between 7-7:30. So, they have plenty of time to accomplish everything on their boards before we leave. I did decide that they would have only two daily chores during the school year: laundry + one additional.
We only do boards on weekdays. If my kids don’t finish their chores before school, they are supposed to do them after school. (However, the truth is that I often forget to follow up.) After school, my kids are exhausted (and often, so am I), so it makes sense for us to have them do their chores in the morning. I want their after school hours to be time for rest, play, creativity, and freedom.
Is Kids Helping with Chores Actually Self-Care for Me?
There have been seasons when I was so overwhelmed, I barely kept my house at a base level of clean. The thought of incorporating my kids into the cleaning routine felt like way too much extra work. And you know what? When they were little, it was too much work! They are finally at the ages that they can be helpful!
For me, it matters that my house is at least cleanish. It helps me to feel calmer and less overwhelmed. Do my kids complete their chores to the same level that I would? Generally, no. But in this case, done is better than perfect—because I don’t have time for “perfect” in this season of life anyway!
If you’re in a particularly challenging season of life, you might be better off paying for a cleaning service than trying to train your kids to do chores. But, if you have the margin and you need the help, there’s no reason not to teach your kids how to chip in.
I mentioned above that my kids’ allowance is tied to the completion of their morning board. Because I could write a whole post about kids and money, I decided to do just that! Next week, I’ll share how our family does allowance, and why.
The Extra Board
I also mentioned above that we bought four boards; however, we only have three kids. First, I figured it might be nice to have a spare. (I’m frankly shocked we haven’t lost or broken a board yet!) But for now, I use the board to record the answers to my kids’ most frequently asked questions:
- What day is it?
- What are we doing today?
- What’s for dinner?
- How long until…[the next thing we’re looking forward to]?
I don’t use it every day, but especially if we have plans after school, it’s a fun way to look forward to (or mentally prepare for) those activities.
* If you’re worried about permanently marking your boards, don’t! Did you know that if you write over Sharpie with dry-erase marker, you can then erase it and remove it all? (Note: This only works on dry-erase boards, as far as I know.)
** You might notice that I didn’t include getting dressed; that’s because my kids actually dress for school the night before and sleep in their clothes! Getting dressed was a major hang up in our morning routine; they moved slowly and couldn’t make decisions about what to wear. (Laying out clothes the night before was the obvious solution, but that didn’t work for my kids, for a variety of reasons.)
Time to share. What’s your best parenting hack? Drop it in the comments below!