Six years old. That’s when I decided that everything would change. Rooms would be kept clean, the table would be set and cleared at mealtimes, and dirty clothes would finally make it into the hamper. Age six is when my husband and I decided that chores would be mandatory. We debated the merits of rewards and sticker charts, and recalled our own upbringings that taught us that you aren’t paid for things that you are expected to do simply as a member of the household. We ultimately decided, though, that the lesson of responsibility, and the help around the house, would be worth a weekly allowance for each of our twins. We promptly created a chore chart, sat the kids down to explain the new house rules, and eagerly anticipated a cleaner home, and less work for mom and dad!
What actually happened was not much work on the part of the six year olds, more nagging and exasperation from us parents, and an allowance that became almost mythical. I would get so annoyed at having to ask, again, for clothes to be picked up off the bathroom floor or Pokemon cards to be put away, that I would declare allowance lost to both of them for the remainder of the week. Since consistency is key (haha), that was how it worked pretty much every week. It got to the point that neither kid really believed that they would get an allowance, and I stopped even trying to get them to follow the chart and just resorted back to yelling and doling out consequences.
Fast forward a few months and we were still in the same pattern, only worse. When asked to do something, my daughter would complain that she had done it the last three times and my son not once. We were constantly looking for something – cleats, homework, soccer socks, library books – all lost in the mess of their rooms and playroom, despite each having a specific place where both kids knew they should be. The final straw was probably the ants. One morning I was frantically searching for my son’s baseball jersey (the only one) to throw it in the wash for picture day later that afternoon. I had looked in all of the usual spots – those being anywhere he decided to take it off once arriving home or in the bathroom right outside of the tub. A whole army of ants invaded my son’s room to feast on the half eaten banana that he left on the floor of the closet.
I am not proud of the meltdown that I had when I saw that banana. That’s what it took, though, to finally get to the solution that, so far, is working great. After ridding the closet and shoes of ants (and forcing my son to use his birthday and saved money on ant traps) we sat down with the kids and had a discussion about our expectations, why chores and their help doing them is important, and what incentives and rewards might work best. From that conversation the $5 plan was born! It is a relatively simple method (albeit expensive, once they start to get the hang of it), that helps curb behaviors just as much as it helps with chores!
The plan works like this at our house but can definitely be tweaked. Each child is given $5 on Monday of the week. This could be changed to 5 quarters, or even 5 stickers, but the point is that they get something tangible at the beginning of the week, no work required. The catch is, though, that they can be forced to give the money back at any point throughout the week. We use it for our big triggers, but it can really be applied to most anything. At our house, I used to say “put on your shoes,” or “brush your teeth” at least 10 times every morning. Now, if I have to say it twice – the child who needed it repeated has to give me a $1 from their $5 weekly allowance. Same goes for wrappers or trash left wherever they want, as if they don’t know trash cans exist, or for clothes that aren’t put into the hampers conveniently located in their rooms and bathroom. I also take away $1 if I ask them to do something and they whine or complain, and if there are toys, bikes, and balls left in the driveway. If they try to argue about giving me the $1, then it is $2. Right now, this is helping more with behavior than actual chore completion, but we had a long way to go!
At first the kids barely made it to Wednesday with money left, and I feared that we would be in the same boat as we were before. It seemed to have more of an impact, though, for them to have to give back something they already had, and they remembered their transgressions more often when they were about to repeat them, than they had previously. It took a couple of months for them to end the week with $5, and even longer for them to both have $5 left in the same week. I had to learn when to give a warning, how strict to be, and honestly, to let it go sometimes, too (hey, I admit to ordering pizza instead of cooking dinner on occasion, and maybe even leaving clothes in the laundry basket longer than I should). The kids, I think, are learning that it is easier (and more rewarding) just to do something when asked rather than drag it out and whine and get in trouble only to have to still do whatever is expected later. They are getting into new habits of putting clothes away, knowing where their shoes are, and whining less. They are trying to keep their money instead of working to earn something they are not sure they would ever even get anyway, and it seems to be a success!
Yesterday, they pooled their earnings with some gift cards they received for their birthday and bought things that I never would have bought for them (read Pokemon – I don’t understand the obsession). When I picked them up from school they were absolutely giddy about our shopping trip, and when at the store you could tell that it meant a lot to them that they earned the money to make their purchases. They have saved some money, too, but it was their mission to actually get to spend their “allowance”. I think now that the big shopping expedition is over, the plan will be more chore-focused going forward – and all my fingers and toes are crossed that it will continue to work just as well!
Shellie Fossick is “mom” to 5 year old boy/girl twins who started Kindergarten this year! She is also the Development Director for a non-profit organization that provides high quality early care and education for more than 400 low-income children in Middle Tennessee. She lives in Nashville, TN with her husband and two children. To read more of Shellie’s Twiniversity articles, click here.