“Hey mom, what chore can I do to earn time?”
My sons ask me this question at least once a day, and I must admit — it is music to my ears.
I have heard many parents say that they refuse to reward their children for doing everyday chores, and I completely understand their reasoning. After all, adults don’t get rewarded every time we do the dishes or make our beds.
The thing is, I have tried to express to my kids the importance of doing these daily tasks “because we are a family and everyone needs to help,” but it never seems to work.
What ends up happening is at least one of them will dissolve into putty onto the floor, passionately protesting that “it isn’t fair,” or “I did it last time,” or “my friends never have to do chores.” You name it, I have heard it. I have literally pleaded with them, in tears, to help me out more around the house. This pleading may have helped for that day, but the next day, we are back to epic eruptions of emotions and arguing.
So, I do the only thing that has worked for our family — I trade screen time for chores.
If there is a chore that needs to be done, I will give my kids 30 minutes of screen time if they complete it to my standards. I know that some parents will create a list of chores that need to be completed before screens are allowed, but that hasn’t worked for me. The problem I’ve had with the list tactic is that when my kids have completed their “jobs,” they think that they can camp out with screens for the rest of the day — especially during the summer months when we have lots of downtime.
Getting 30 minutes of play (or TV) works for us because it helps to break up the day. My kids are expected to set their own timers and when the timer goes off, they turn off their device. That way, I don’t have to be the “bad guy” telling them “times up!” Typically, they will put their device away when the timer goes off and do something else without me having to step in at all. Occasionally, they ask me what they can do next in order to earn more time — but the chores get more intense with each request. It has worked out as an efficient way to limit their screen time naturally.
We live in a time when screens and technology are a part of everyday life in a much greater way than when we were kids. I can’t even count how many discussions I’ve had with my 10-year-old about why we can’t download “free” games onto the computer (he has inflicted viruses on more than one of ours). He also thinks I am more than unreasonable for not allowing him to put Fortnite on the laptop that I use for work. “But mom, all of my friends play it!” he pleads.
These decisions about technology use and screen time are a daily battle with kids, and it is exhausting and difficult for parents. My son tells me that some of his friends have no limits when it comes to video games and TV. Whether or not that is true, there will always be different rules for different households.
We are all just doing the best we can. I sometimes worry that I’m setting my kids up to expect rewards for basic housework, but this is what is currently works. At least I know that my three boys are learning how to do everyday chores so that when they grow up and move out on their own, they won’t have to call me because they don’t know how to run the dishwasher.
I asked my son how he feels about our chores-for-time agreement, and he told me that it has taught him that he has to do the work first and then he will get to play. That sounds pretty adult to me.