How to fix some random kid (and grown-up!) problems

We get a lot of comments, both good and bad, about how much stuff we make our oldest kid do.  Ze, for example, makes hir own lunch for school, has a list of household chores to do (mostly limited only by height restrictions), and is in charge of remembering things like homework and recurring special things like pizza money on pizza day or that Wednesday is special uniform day.

It’s expecting a lot of a 7 year old (and even more of a 6 or 5 year old, which DC1 once was!)  But it’s something we need to do to keep our household running in the absence of a full-time live-in housekeeper.  As full-time working adults with high-level jobs and a 2 year old we just don’t have that kind of mental load.  And DC1 is capable and it isn’t usually that big a deal when we all forget things.

Except occasionally DC1 forgets to wear the special uniform 3 weeks in a row and we get an email noting that if there’s a fourth time, then demerits will follow.  We’re not sure what demerits are going to do, but they sure sound scary.  Or DC1 will forget chores or homework and blissfully spend the evening playing board-games with DH, only remembering long after bedtime or the next morning that there’s an assignment due.

So here’s what we do that works.

Uniform, pizza money, and school holidays/fairs are all put on DC1’s wall calendar.  Each day at bedtime ze crosses off the day and sees what is listed for the next day.  If it’s the special uniform, ze takes it out of the closet and hangs it on hir dresser knob.  If it’s pizza money, ze demands it from DH and puts it in hir back pack.  If it’s a holiday, then we’re reminded.

For that long list of chores, during one of DH’s business trips I made DC1 make a full checklist of all the chores ze has to do each night.  Homework (or workbooks on weekends), piano practicing, making lunch for the next day (if applicable), putting away the clean silverware, loading the dishwasher, feeding the kittens, helping fold laundry (if applicable).  (See, we’re tyrants!  DC1 never gets to do anything fun.)  Once all of those chores are done, DC1 is free to spend hir time as ze wishes on weekends, and can do anything except video games on weekdays (since even the checklist couldn’t help DC1 remember hir chores if video games are an option).

Of course, it’s not enough to do the homework or make the lunch.  Those items also have to make it into the backpack.  So there’s a new rule that they have to go into the backpack as soon as they’re done.  They’re not allowed to sit out on desk or counter where they can be forgotten and then I have to turn back to get them on the way to school and everybody is late.  Because I hate that.

So… calendar, checklist, and automation.  That’s how we keep things together with DC1 during the week and that’s how we’re able to give DC1 so many responsibilities.

Related:  financial diffraction talks about using her calendar to keep track of money

How do you and yours get out the door in the morning every day of the week?  Any tips?

30 Responses to “How to fix some random kid (and grown-up!) problems”

  1. L Says:

    Yay you!!! Teaching a child to be responsible for hir OWN LIFE is admirable. And those who comment that it’s too much? Really? That’s how I grew up — eldest of four siblings, with a frequently-absent father (working) and a mother who had horrible postpartum depression after my 7-years-younger sister was born. So I had plenty to keep track of, and accomplish, at a very young age. That ability has translated into job promotions in adulthood. In contrast, I have a 37 y/o friend who is barely able to shoulder the responsibility of finding a new job when her hours are drastically cut at the current one. Because she was never taught to be responsible for herself.

  2. TheologyAndGeometry Says:

    Sounds like a great system. I don’t think that sounds like too much for a 7-y/o and it seems like DC#1 enjoys (maybe?) being a helpful and productive member of the family. Our almost 2-y/o can get his own plate, bowl, cup and spoon from a low shelf on in the pantry, he can bring us our shoes when we are ready to leave (working on colors and which shoes are Mommy’s and which are Daddy’s), helps pick up his toys, and likes to “help” us do other things like make the bed, pour things into other things while we are cooking, etc.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      You know, we never thought of putting plates and stuff on a lower shelf so the kids can get their own. That’s brilliant! DC1 isn’t tall enough to get plates yet even with a stool so any time ze needs to make hir lunch, we have to go into the kitchen to get a plate for hir unless there are still some clean in the dishwasher.

      • Rosa Says:

        a couple years ago, after I was around to see my 35 year old brother have Mom do his laundry, we came home and completely rearranged our kitchen to make the everyday stuff – plates, bowls, lunch packing supplies – accesible to the then-7-year old. Also the fridge – put milk into a half-gallon on the bottom shelf, stuff like that. We have tall shelves so it does take a stool, but I really wanted him to start fetching his own food.

        This completely un-toddlerproofed our house, of course – all that stuff was up high from when we rearranged it when he first got mobile. So you might not be able to do it. But it was totally worth the effort for us.

      • MutantSupermodel Says:

        We have a cabinet on the bottom that’s filled with the plastic plates and cups just for the kids. It’s the best thing ever.They get their own stuff out and when they unload the dishwasher they’re responsible for putting those things away too.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        That is such a great idea.

  3. Holly@CLubThrifty Says:

    I think that sounds reasonable for a responsible 7-year-old. Might as well get used to having some responsibility now. You will probably thank yourself sometime down the line when you have a child/teenager who can do their own laundry and clean up on their own.

    My five-year-old has some chores (mainly picking up toys and making her bed) and is in charge of her calendar as well. She actually informed me that they didn’t have school this Wednesday because they are having a three -day Thanksgiving Break instead of the typical Thurs-Fri off. I had no idea, which is kinda sad. Had to scramble to try to get her into the youngest child’s daycare that day =/

  4. Rosa Says:

    I have ADHD, my child has ADHD. All the lists (and the calendar on the door where I have to see it) are important and helpful!

    That said, our poor kiddo is sometimes so overscheduled, and has to have such an inflexible bed time to get any sleep at all, his list gets pared down to only things he can do (only he can practice his instrument) and I pick up some of the stuff from his list, like packing his lunch and doublechecking the backpack.

  5. Alicia Says:

    Hey, lists work. When I was a kid I was responsible for all the stuff, but since I’m not a parent I can’t really comment on additional suggestions. I do like the idea of putting things at kid level once they’re responsible enough so they can reach their plate or cup. I think it will serve DC1 well for the future, and same with DC2 when they’re a little older to be responsible for things rather than being micro-managed.

    Also, thanks for linking to my post as well :)

  6. Ana Says:

    I love these ideas for chores for a younger child. I should start planting these seeds now… And without a calendar or checklist, I’d forget everything too and spend the evening doing my equivalent of video games

  7. chacha1 Says:

    We had similar systems when I was a kid. :-)
    Re: getting us out of the house – we’ve got it easy because it’s just two middle-aged people to wrangle.
    I solve most of my own organizational issues by doing masses of personal business from my work computer. I take in what I need to do, do it, and when I get home take it out of my bag and file it.
    Also I always, always, always keep my going-to-work bag in the same exact place. My keys are right there, my building pass is in my bag, my phone gets turned off at night and dropped into the bag. There is never any frantic search or return home for essential gear.
    Vs. my husband who routinely forgets things. Just this morning he had to ring the doorbell because he walked out without his keys.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I would always lose my keys if I didn’t put them in the same place every time. People who don’t? They baffle me…

      • Rented life Says:

        I dont always put the keys in the same spot. I lose them a lot. In college it was my brush. Lost that thing a few times a week.

      • Leah Says:

        I used to lose my keys a lot. We had a system in the house where I grew up, and then I never established one when I moved out on my own. That was actually the first fight husband then-boyfriend and I had — where are Leah’s keys? He made me put up a keyrack, and I’ve been mostly good ever since.

        I also put my work stuff into my back the night ahead of time so I don’t forget stuff in the morning. I’m trying to convince my students that this is necessary, because I often get the “oh, crap, I left that homework on my dorm room desk” thing.

  8. hypatia cade Says:

    A while back there was a list of developmentally appropriate chores your child can do that was circulating the facebooks…. It was a good list and seemed to me to pretty much capture the things that we were expected to do as a child. With a bit of structure kids can be quite responsible. I also like the way the reward system is structured (Chores done = free time). Sounds perfect.

  9. becca Says:

    Good to hear there are lots of capable kids out there.
    We have such issues getting ready in the morning. I can get myself ready for work, or I can remind my kid ze needs to focus when feeding the cats, but doing both at once just makes me uber cranky. Not sure how to actually get hir to be more independent at this stage.
    Maybe a super complete checklist would help? Part of the issue is that “getting dressed” and “eating breakfast” can fit into very different time slots depending on what I cook and how long that takes. And really, if I am taking time to make our lunches and ze has already gotten dressed and eaten breakfast, ze probably has three minutes to burn until I can get to hir hair. What ze does not have, is ten minutes to get all wrapped up in a game in. Which is what inevitably happens, leading to much drama when I drag hir away from it (and a messy bedroom). Aggh. I get so stressed just thinking about it.

    • Leah Says:

      Becca, if I were you, I’d try shifting anything that can be moved to the night ahead of time. Can you make lunches beforehand? I did that each night when I had to pack lunches (lunch is work-provided now), and it really saved my goose in the morning. If you want to wait to make something like sandwiches, at least pack anything that doesn’t need to be pre-made.

      • becca Says:

        This is good thinking (another person I know recommended this, so I need to pay attention!). Some of the AM stuff can’t be frontloaded, but some probably could.
        I don’t want to get into the number of times I can’t find kidlet’s lunchbox though (which gets left on the bus periodically, leading to Much Drama)…But not finding it in the PM will be annoying, whereas in the AM it’s super frustrating.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        We make lunches the night before too. So much easier.

  10. Revanche Says:

    It’s always interesting to see what’s normal at what ages. I know that I was doing dishes, perched on the counter next to the sink, and cooking rice when I was about 5 or 6 and doing laundry every week when I was about 7. We didn’t have stools so we just learned to climb up on everything: counters, washers and dryers to start them up, a chair pushed up to the stove to boil water to make coffee and tea.

    Generally, as soon as kids are old enough to understand meaning, I deem them old enough to start doing things that resemble lending a helping hand. 2 year olds are fun when they first learn that things have places, I hand them or point out toys and ask them to put them away, or throw this or that piece of trash in the garbage. I assume we’ll be doing similar things with LB that you do with DC1. No reason LB can’t learn to be responsible early.

  11. The frugal ecologist Says:

    I love this! I do not think you are excessive at all but I can see how this would blow the min do someone who does everything for their kiddos (see 35 yo laundry above!)

    My parents were less formal for me and my sister but my brother had a checklist that included most of your stuff as far as chores. He still is easily distracted so checklist was very helpful for him. Beyond doing chores, I love your emphasis on kids taking personal responsibility and helping with mental load. Filing this away for when my child is older…

    And I love the idea of having plates etc accessible for kid friendly access!

  12. SP Says:

    I think my older sister had way more chores than I did. :)

    We were expected to help with stuff, but it was less organized. We cleared the table and dishes, did laundry, and helped with chore lists with mom/dad and the helm – but there was no daily checklist or anything. In fact, a more structured routine is sadly something I’m working on starting in our current household of 2 grown adults. Maybe we should give ourselves demerits when we fail at chores :)

    To someone with limited kid experience, it does seem like a lot, but in a good way. I’m impressed.

  13. hush Says:

    Amen to letting kids pull their own weight at home. It is so refreshing to read somebody who gets it. Thank you! And thank you Montessori!

    In general, I think USian parentfolk need to let kids fail more, in low-risk ways. If my kids forget to pack their lunch, that’s on them. They’re going to need to deal with it and problem-solve. Nobody will be dropping off lunch for them. My son forgot his lunch exactly once. He didn’t starve and the sun rose the next day. Now he’s super detail-oriented, making sure that both kids have everything before they leave in the morning. He figured it out.

    I once got flamed elsewhere for saying that if Mom is upset because Dad repeatedly refuses to do the work of getting a child’s school lunch ready, then perhaps it’s the child who should get their own school lunch ready, or buy lunch if possible. (Also that Mom maybe ought to consider taking a break from ol’ uncooperative Dad…) But it seems I am in the minority on this viewpoint. It’s much more fashionable to bitch about the useless husband, and continue to be a martyr, and do far too much for the kid.

  14. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Regardless of whether or not it’s a good thing for our kid to do (and I’m ambivalent– though I am glad my kids will be the ones teaching how to do laundry in college rather than the ones being taught, most kids learn how to take care of themselves eventually unless they marry someone who takes care of them right out of high school), it’s what we need to do in order to have two high powered careers and no housekeeper. I suppose we could give up hobbies, but that still wouldn’t help during crunch times when lunches still need to be made and we’re already not doing anything fun.

    What gets me is the day after DC1 forgot hir lunch the last time, I forgot mine. I was like, you know, I think *I* need a checklist too.

  15. plainandsimplepress Says:

    Good for you! Outstanding preparation for life in the real world.

    I won’t describe what we used to do by way of getting our son out of bed, except to say it was one of the reasons for the divorce.

    And to say that because my son was never taught how to care for his surroundings, he really doesn’t know how. For the longest time I couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t dusting his house and cleaning the encrusted stove top, when he’s ordinarily fairly tidy. Finally I happened to drop by when he was “cleaning” and realized he doesn’t know HOW to clean.

    And why does he not know how to clean? Beeecauuusssse I never MADE him clean, the way my mother did with me and the way you’re doing with your child.

    And why did I never make him clean? First, we had cleaning help much of the time. Second, his father wouldn’t have put up with it. Third, I had neither the energy nor the will to launch a one-person campaign to socialize my son for polite society, especially when his father actively worked to undermine any such forlorn efforts.

    Seven years is most definitely not too young to start showing the kid how to take care of himself and to expect him to do so.

    Yrs in endless annoyance with, Funny about Money :-D
    [but as long as WP is forcing me to comment as P&S Press, do drop by and check out my new book…]

  16. MutantSupermodel Says:

    I used to have a checklist on the back of the door but it got complicated. I think a wall calendar for each kid though is freaking BRILLIANT. Especially since the school sends monthly calendars. I can just print a copy for each of them and pencil in the stuff that’s for them. I confess sharing the mental load is not a strong point for me, it just doesn’t occur to me. But this is a great way of doing it.

    My kids make all of their lunches for the week Sunday if they’re with me. They make an assembly line and get it done. The oldest is the one that packs all of the lunchboxes in the morning. The three of them feed themselves breakfast– I make sure to have lots of the stuff they like to eat easily accessible (toast, cereal, cereal bars, and oatmeal) and just let them do it. I knew I was on to something when I watched my six year old prepare himself oatmeal without anyone’s help. We have some stools around but I think they prefer climbing stuff and I’m fine with it.

    One thing I would REALLY like to implement in my house is an allowance system. I always thought it’d be simple to do but I haven’t managed to successfully do it. My kids I feel are overdue for that.

  17. mareserinitatis Says:

    I think it would depend on the kid. Younger offspring does just fine with that sort of routine. It would’ve taken an act of some celestial being for the older one to be able to do something similar. I have no idea why, but you have to work with them where they’re at…

  18. Do you feel any pressure to be a “super mom”? | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] this is why people get weird about how much responsibility we’ve piled on our elementary schooler.  Maybe I’m supposed to be taking care of all […]

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