I'm having trouble writing these days because a lot of the stuff going on in my head right now is stuff I really ought not put out there, so I'm going through last year's posts looking for things to update.
One thing that started out giving me high hopes was getting the kids to pull their weight around the house a little more via a token economy. Here are the posts from that experiment:
- Token economy -- in which I describe my monthly system by which the children lose one popsicle stick each day they don't clean their rooms, and at the end of the month are paid for the remaining popsicle sticks
- Token economy (results) -- in which I report how the first month went
- First expansion of the token-for-chores system: Laundry -- in which now the children have to do their own laundry once a week
- Job number 3: Cooking for the family (the first week) -- in which the children begin to earn extra popsicle sticks by making dinner
- The token economy: slowing down? and adding bathrooms -- in which I notice that compliance is falling off just a bit, and in which the children receive a raise in return for adding a daily bathroom reboot to their tasks
- Token economy: Little-kid edition -- in which I explain how I use stickers, slightly differently, for the four-year-old's jobs
I only had one more set of daily tasks that I was going to spring on them, and then -- after that final set of tasks had become a habit -- I was going to transition out of the token system. To something. I wasn't sure what. Something where I didn't have to handle popsicle sticks every day. I hadn't made that part of the plan yet. But the rest of it? It was all going according to what I'd planned so far.
And then we went to Europe for a month, and came back and dived right into schoolwork ---
and the whole system fell completely to pieces.
I couldn't believe how easily the routine, built up over five months, fell apart in one month. And the fault definitely did not lie entirely with the kids. It was me too -- I didn't follow up on it. I let it slide. I forgot to check their rooms for days at a time. I sporadically removed popsicle sticks. The kids didn't leave time in their school day to do their jobs. We rushed off in the morning to do errands without making sure that the bathrooms were done. And at the end of the month, we counted up sticks and I had to pay them (because I had said I would) even though I knew darn well that they only had those tokens on the technicality of Mom forgot to make sure we did our jobs.
(Meanwhile, the other thing that fell apart was the baby's infant potty training. I had been taking him to the toilet about once a day since he was only a few weeks old. I had him -- at eight months -- sitting on the Baby Bjorn potty and urinating on cue. We were trucking right along. And then we went to Europe and used disposable diapers for a month and he forgot everything. Argh.)
Yeah, I've done some second-guessing about that. I should have brought the potty with us. I should have made the kids tidy their rooms in the apartments every day. Then they'd still have the habit.
On the other hand, we had a nice vacation. So there's that.
+ + +
So October didn't work in the sense that the kids didn't do jobs they weren't being asked to do every day, and the children's rooms got messy again.
It wasn't a complete loss. They still put their laundry into the wash every week, for example, which is an improvement. And they still do the daily post-lunch cleanup before going off to have Leave Mom Alone Until Two O'Clock time. And they still can cook dinner, and so once a week or so one of them will make dinner for me. And of course they knew how to do everything, so all I have to do is tell them to "do your bathroom jobs," for example, and they can do that.
But the doing-it-every-day-without-my-asking was gone.
I eventually took the popsicle sticks out of their rooms, and they are sitting on the cookbook shelf in my kitchen while I try to figure out what I do next.
+ + +
I talked to Mark about it and he suggested that I consider which parts of the kids' jobs are working well.
"Well, the part that goes the absolute best is the after-lunch cleanup," I mused. "The 8yo and 11yo squabble a lot, and the 8yo does her level best to dawdle so her brothers do more of the work, but on the whole they get it done well and they get it done quickly. I think it's because we do it at the same time every day that we're home, and because they know that their break lasts until two o'clock no matter how long it takes them.
"Also, I'm right there while they are cleaning up -- sometimes I'm helping them, sometimes I'm feeding the baby, sometimes I'm using the computer -- and they know I won't let them go until it's done right. So they're motivated to get it done, so they can run off and have break time. Usually they're done by 1:15, and that's with us sitting down to lunch around noon, but sometimes if we finish morning school early and then have lunch early, they're done as early as 12:30."
"Well, maybe you need to schedule times in the day to do all the other jobs," said Mark.
"And maybe I should motivate them by promising that if they finish the jobs early, there will be break time. With a hard stop at some clock time -- like the two o'clock end of break and start of afternoon school. If they don't finish by then there won't be any break."
"I don't know if the kids need a break to be motivated," said Mark, "if we're going to have their allowance hang on it."
I thought of the popsicle sticks, now gathering dust on my shelf. "I don't know if I can keep track well enough to have their allowance hang on it."
"Figure something out, and if you need help keeping track, tell me what I can do to help and I'll do it."
+ + +
Later I sat down and thought about the jobs I wanted the kids to do and the break times that are part of our day. I like do the younger kids' school in two bursts, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, with a long break in the middle of the day. (My high schooler has a good deal of freedom in setting his own work/break/sleep schedule, since he doesn't really need my help from day to day.)
We're already using the 2 p.m. start of school as a "hard stop" on break time.
There's also the morning start, 9:30 or 10 a.m.... maybe I could use that as the end of a "morning break" that they could get if they finished a set of morning chores.
And then, we have lunchtime. Maybe I could tell them they had to do a small chore before they could come to the table for lunch.
And then, we have an afternoon snack at three-thirty or so, a little earlier on Wednesdays because dinner has to be earlier because they have to leave for religious ed. Maybe I could have them do something before they can have snack...
I made a little schedule and showed it to everyone at dinner time. There was much groaning.
But my teenage son said, "I can do a better job than that, Mom. You should let me come up with a system."
At first I was reluctant, but then I said.... "OK. You come up with something."
More on this next time...