How NOT to Use a Chore Chart When Teaching Kids Responsibility

How NOT to Use a Chore Chart When Teaching Kids Responsibility

As parents, we strive to pick the best path to educate, nurture and engage our children.

To use or not use a chore chart?

In a 2016 article published in The Atlantic, titled “The Dangers of Using a Sticker Chart to Teach Kids Good Behavior”.

The byline read: “Priming kids to expect rewards for good behaviour can harm their social skills in the long term.” 

As parents, we strive to pick the best path (with the belief that there isn’t a right path) to educate, nurture and engage our children so they can become positive human beings.

Dissecting Chore Charts Further

The most problematic item from the piece was its reference to the use of chore charts and reward stickers.

Concerns over the misuse of a chore chart is a legitimate concern.

But if parents use a chore chart appropriately, then there’s little risk of spoiling kids or turning them into “dangerous” individuals.

In this article, we’ll discuss how parents should NOT use a chore chart when teaching them responsibility.

Do NOT Emphasize Physical Rewards or “Stickers” with a Chore Chart

There is a history of parents offering rewards to motivate their kids to finish their chores. 

“Do your homework and get an A, we’ll buy you a Playstation.”

“Clean up your room every day after school, we’ll raise your allowance.”

“Start listening to mum and dad, we’ll take you to Disneyworld.”

There’s nothing wrong with offering rewards to kids.

However, when you position the reward as the reason to complete a chore, you can undermine a child’s desire to take up a new responsibility. 

Eventually, it can be hard for them to show accountability unless they are getting something in return.

It’s not uncommon for kids to start completing chores for the mere sake of collecting stickers and points, especially if collecting them translates into a physical (or digital) gift. 

When they complete tasks merely to amass new “toys”, their good behaviour becomes purely transactional.

If for some reason you don’t give them an incentive to complete a task, they won’t see a need to do it.

The earlier they get into this “What’s in it for me?” pattern of thinking, the harder it will be to turn things around. 

So how do you prevent this from starting, before it even happens?

The simple answer is to avoid mentioning rewards as the defining motive for completing a chore.

Children’s preferences and motivations are influenced by what parents introduce to them.

For example, if you feed your kid a cookie or a piece of cake when they’re upset, you’ll condition them to see comfort food as a means of responding to uncomfortable situations or painful emotions. 

It goes without saying that this could damage their health in the future. But if you train them to eat a balanced and nutritious diet, regardless of circumstance, they’ll likely continue to eat healthy without a need for rewards.

The same goes for chores and responsibilities. 

You’ll need to avoid promising rewards, or using stickers and “points” as a means to motivate your child.

The same can be said for threatening to withhold a reward from your kids. This will also make them feel like what’s at stake is a gift, not their life skills. 

Even though a good behaviour chart has space for reward stickers, try not to direct your child’s attention to that portion of the board every time. 

Do NOT Give Your Child a Sticker for Trivial Behaviours

Imagine this scenario: a young mother begs her son to brush his teeth before bed. He’d rather play his Nintendo Switch. 

Desperate for her boy to listen and to avoid getting yet another cavity, she points to her son’s chore chart and promises to give him two extra stickers if he brushes his teeth. The boy puts down his game and runs to the bathroom. 

It’s easy to sympathize with his mother who is likely exhausted and stressed. But giving her son a sticker for brushing his teeth does him no favours. 

The problem in this scenario is that brushing his teeth is an act of proper dental hygiene.

It’s for his own benefit. 

What’s the Problem?

When compared to more demanding tasks such as cleaning his room or sorting the trash, brushing his teeth requires little effort.

If a child needs motivation and rewards for smaller tasks, that kid may grow into an adult who needs motivation for basic self-care or menial tasks in the workplace. 

You can imagine how damaging that may be to their health or career. 

When you’re tired, the last thing you want is to beg your child to complete a chore. But don’t give in.

If you are going to reward them, save that reward or sticker for a chore that is time-consuming or labour-intensive.

Doing so will help your kids understand that some tasks deserve rewards, while others should be completed without expectations.  

Do NOT Use a Chore Chart Merely to Assign Tasks

This “Don’t Do” might seem a bit confusing. 

What we mean here is this: don’t plaster a sticker onto a chore chart without monitoring your kids and providing feedback for their efforts.

It goes without saying that some tasks need you to supervise your kids. There are other tasks you can arguably allow them to do on their own, without having to supervise them. 

But passive use of a good behaviour chart is not ideal. 

So What Should You Do?

My Starry Chart is not like other chore charts. It’s designed with the intention of fitting into your family’s busy schedule.

Kids get sick, we go on vacation. We understand life gets in the way. 

Because My Starry Chart is goal-based, not time-based, missing a day won’t set you or your child back. So don’t stress!

That being said, we’ve shared below our top four tips when using My Starry Chart.

1. Pick Attainable Chores First

We want to make sure kids feel like they can be successful when setting their goals for the day, week and month.

While some challenge is good, we don’t want to have your child feeling like achieving goals can’t ever happen. 

Make sure chores align with the age of your child.

2. Work With Your Child to Complete Chores

Sometimes, kids need to see how a task works to complete it successfully on their own.

Complete chores with your child so they feel they are being supported on a new chore or responsibility. Focus on the process with your child, not always the end result.

For example, when reinforcing the healthy habit of making the bed every morning, it might not be done with precision the first time.

That’s OK.

But the next time after, your child can learn and can be more successful; eventually waking up and making the bed without being asked.

3. Place the Chart in an Accessible Location

My Starry Chart should be kept in a place where the child spends a lot of time. For example, the kitchen or their bedroom.

This simple action can reinforce the habit of using their chore chart regularly.

Tucking it away or unfolding it only when it’s needed means we might not use it as often as we should. Out of sight can definitely mean out of mind!

4. Praise Your Child In Front of Others

Talk about their successes in front of grandma or family members! Praise in front of people your child cares about can reinforce continued good behaviour and continued positive habits.

A Chore Chart Can Be a Gift…or a Curse

The article published in The Atlantic that we mentioned in the introduction did make a reasonable argument against chore charts being used merely for rewards. 

We agree that using a good behaviour chart this way can foster a selfish attitude in kids. 

But we also believe that a chore chart doesn’t contribute to such behaviour when used correctly. 

Like anything else, moderation is key. 

Use a chore chart to help your kids plan and structure their routines, but don’t focus on using the stickers and points they might earn.

Make those rewards secondary or an afterthought to their duties.

They will focus less on rewards and develop an appreciation for the skills you want them to learn.

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