Chore Wars: How I Got My Kids to Clean the House

This is a true story.

Yesterday, my children were arguing about doing chores. Their argument went something like this:

Daughter: I’m going to unload the dishwasher.

Son: I get to clean the bathroom.

Daughter: If you get to clean the bathroom, then I get to make mom’s bed and vacuum the living room.

Son: That’s not fair. I want to make her bed! Mom, what other things can I do?

Me: You can fold the laundry, then put it away.

Son: Great! [to his sister] Ha, I get to do more than you!

Are you wondering whether I may have used the wrong words—should it have been “have to” instead of “going to,” “get to,” or—can you imagine—“WANT TO”? It’s not a typo. My children want to do chores! (I can’t stop smiling, and every once-in-a-while, I actually do a little dance). I have to say it again—in capital letters as if I am yelling from the rooftops—MY CHILDREN WANT TO DO CHORES!

The daughter I have raised for the last eleven years does not clean the house, she rarely helps out, and she always has an excuse as to why she is too busy to do the simplest thing. Even when I tell her to put her own clean clothes away, she grunts at me, rolls her eyes, and then drags herself down the hall only to throw them on her chair. Up until last week, I was completely alone in taking care of our house.

Then, I made a change.

In my last post, I wrote about the three things that I was going to focus on so that I could attain a sense of balance in my life. One of them was about providing structure and follow-through to my children. So, I came up with a plan, a system of reward and punishment that actually makes my children feel empowered—makes them feel that they are the ones in control.

This is how it works:

First I needed each of them to help me create a list of rules—basically a list of bad habits that drive me crazy. My son’s list included things like saying the words sucks, idiot, and dumb, as well as threatening his sister with physical violence. My daughter’s list included many things related to her interaction with her brother, such as invading his physical space—even hugging him without asking—, teasing him, and correcting or telling him what to do.

Once each list was complete, I grabbed some sticky-notes and began writing down times in 15-minute intervals: 9:00, 8:45, 8:30, 8:15, 8:00, and so on, until I reached 7:00. For my daughter, it started at 10:00. The first time listed is their actual bed time, every time after that is the time that they will go to bed if they break any of their rules. 1 broken rule = 15 minutes off their bedtime.

This is the punishment.

Here is the reward.

When my daughter started 6th grade earlier this year, she came home and explained to me about a system of reward that her teacher had developed. The teacher outlined a number of ways that students could earn “cash” that would be good toward things like extra credit, homework passes, and even lunch. My daughter loved it, and being the competitive girl that she is, she works hard to be the student with the most cash. This inspired my daughter to come up with the idea to do the same at home—she named it “Mommy Moolah.” Although she had this idea earlier in the school year, it took me until last week to finally pull it together.

This is how it works:

Each chore is worth a certain amount of “Mommy Moolah”—vacuuming (1); loading the dishwasher (4); cleaning the bathroom (3); folding the laundry (2). After either of them completes a chore, I sign off on it on a tracker. Then, when they have enough, they can turn it in for a reward—staying up an extra half hour (10); getting a movie from Redbox (20); picking my son/my daughter up from school and taking them to lunch (35); going to the movies (50).

I knew that losing their bedtime would ultimately deter them from breaking rules—and I hoped that over time they might actually get in the habit of behaving better—but I honestly didn’t know if getting them to clean the house would actually work. Maybe it wouldn’t have if it weren’t for making the decision to introduce both the punishment and the reward at the same time. Within one day, the kids had each lost at least thirty minutes of their bedtime, and when they realized that they would have to go to bed early, they immediately wanted to earn some “Mommy Moolah” to buy it back.

This has been going on all week. Each evening, I sit on the couch, lazily watching television, while both kids frantically look for more and more chores to do. It is a shocking—and beautiful—site.

This week, I’m linking up with Mama Kat’s Pretty Much World Famous Writing Prompts—Create an “instructional” post where you show readers how to do something cool!

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37 thoughts on “Chore Wars: How I Got My Kids to Clean the House

  1. OH MY GOSH!!!! What a GREAT idea…I am so “borrowing” this. My kids are turning 2 and it wont be long before I start implementing this…a little more simple but still GREAT…GREAT…GREAT!

    So happy I stopped by! :)

    • I’m so glad you liked my idea—you’ll have to let me know if works with your kids! Thanks for stopping by, and for taking a minute to leave a comment!

  2. I’m still on the “do it because I said so and OMG do you see how nasty your bathroom is, how can you wash your face in this sink.” And since I don’t agree w/doling out cash, your system may just be one for us to try. Right now, my 11 yr old is your 11 yr old (until last week, that is). She doesn’t want to help. But a couple of weeks ago we started with them doing more (they’ve been cleaning their bathroom and sweeping and clearing the table until now and of course that’s really nothing chore-wise). So we started them on laundry and dishes. The 8 yr old is gung ho (and a fitted sheet folding pro. Holla!) and slowly infecting the 11 yr old with her excitement at helping out. If I were to institute rewards too, well look out.

    • I totally understand your frustration. I am on the third week, and the kids were still figuring out who gets to do what last night. They are competing with one another on how much “mommy moolah” they can get in a night. Neither wants to get less than the other. Last night I was actually looking for things for them to do! It is seriously a miracle!

  3. This is AWESOME! I may have to steal your ideas. My girls just won’t do the chores we’ve assigned to them. And they fight with each other all the time, which drives me crazy. You really may be on to something here. Thanks for sharing!

    • Well, if you decided to give it a try, please stop back and let me know how it goes. I find that I always have to mix things up a bit—so any ideas are always welcome. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  4. Brilliant!
    I have a similar system in place, although not quite as crafty as yours ;)
    My problem is that my ex-husband doesn’t ask the boys to do anything at his house – even though they LOVE to help!
    So if they’ve spent the entire weekend being catered to at their father’s house, it’s hard to motivate them to get back at it once they’re back to my house… frustrating.

    I may need to re-think my strategy :)

    • It’s even difficult with my husband following through on the punishment side of things. He always wants them to stay up late, so even if they’ve lost some time, he may go in their room to “chat”—it makes me nuts. The kids have actually told me to create “Daddy Dollars” so that he can give them rewards, too. Any chance your ex would institute something like that, too?

    • I actually started the rules / punishment thing with my daughter when she was in 2nd grade. It really did work. It just took me another 4 years to actually make her help out around the house!

  5. But…why didn’t I think of this??!!
    Seriously!
    The problem with me is – I suck at follow-through.
    I would do it if I thought I’d follow through on it but I don’t think I can be trusted to. Keep us posted on how this goes – what an overnight change you made!

    • Thanks! Follow through is the hardest part. The best thing about this is that they can’t argue about the bed time or they lose more time, either that night or the next. I don’t have to yell at them AND they go to bed on time. Win win. I’m on week 3, and the kids are still helping out around the house—I’ll keep you posted!

  6. This is a great idea! It’s a shame it wouldn’t work in my house though. We tried a system like this before and the kids just didn’t care enough one way or the other (there are reasons that would take too long to explain).
    Great job, though! I envy you your lazy TV time.

  7. OK…that is fabulous. Love the “Mommy moolah” esp because I don’t want to pay my kids real $ for doing chores…I don’t get paid for doing them…they are just a part of life. Brilliant…I will try it! ;)
    I stopped in from SITS31DBBB…great site. ;)

  8. Oh. My . God. You have struck gold you clever woman!!!!

    My husband and I have discussed a similar reward system which we hope to implement once our children are old enough to understand conceptually how it works. But couple it with a punishment system? Brilliant.

  9. How clever are you with that bedtime plan?
    I used a “buck system” with my first graders years back, downloading Monopoly money and adding a photo of my own face in the middle. The kids could earn bucks for a variety of reasons, and could either purchase items (stickers, candy, lunch with me…) or save it for our weekly auction.
    Of course as i read about your “mommy moolah” fond memories of my own system came rushing back!

  10. Very creative system. I look forward to the day I can implement this kind of program for my 2 year old. Right now straight bribery just doesn’t work with him. He’s a very picky eater and even lollipops laid right in front of him on the table don’t encourage him to taste new foods. Would love to figure out another way to break his stubborn pattern. Kudos on a great plan!

  11. I love this idea. My ‘Baby Bear’ is only 18 months old and so I try to have her help me to make things ‘fun’ for myself when I am cleaning the house. I know that I will soon need to have a system like this to get her to clean up the toys! Thanks, I am keeping this in my ‘to do file’!

  12. Just stumbled upon this. Love your system. Is it still going strong? Sustaining these arrangements can be one of the toughest challenges.

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