Embracing the Chore Chart

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For the past few months my kids, for lack of a better description, have been acting like completely disrespectful little assholes. Super cute and lovable, but assholes non the less. Nasty back talk, fighting with us and each other, and refusing to do even the simplest things for themselves. It became glaringly apparent to my husband and myself on our family vacation last month that we were in serious need of a change in the way we were running things. We spent 10 days in paradise, but struggled to enjoy ourselves as we listening to the kids throw tantrums and fight with each other. As I mentioned in a previous post, vacations give my husband and I a great opportunity to examine our parenting and come together as a team. After this particular trip, we were both left feeling completely fed up and defeated. We both new that we needed to start seriously improving in the discipline department.

A glaring issue that we knew we needed to address was our inconsistency when it came to setting rules and following through on consequences. We had fallen into a bad habit of throwing out empty threats that we knew we’d never follow through with. “If you don’t behave, we won’t be going to the birthday party!”, when we damn well know we’re going to the party no matter what. We (me especially) were also guilty of caving in to whining and just giving them whatever it is they wanted just to get them to stop being pests. So our kids learned that they could push our limits and often still get to do whatever they wanted. They were also outgrowing some of our old methods of disciple, such as time outs. They just didn’t care about those repercussions anymore. We needed to set a new plan an stick to it.

Obviously, this isn’t the first time in nearly 7 years that we’ve had to figure out disciplinary guidelines for our kids. My oldest in particular has always been a very strong willed child. This, in combination with his sensory processing disorder, has led to a long history of behavioral issues that we’ve needed to find new ways to address throughout the years. I never saw myself as a chore chart kind of mom. I’m not crafty, creative, or especially organized. We never had one in my house growing up either, we just did what my mom asked when she asked for the most part. It always seemed too much for me and my lack of organization. I also didn’t realistically see myself putting it together and following through with it. However, I reluctantly implemented our first chart when my oldest was 4 years old under the instruction of a behavioral therapist. We met with her a few times under the advice of our developmental pediatrician to help us with some of his SPD related behavior issues and find ways to make our lives run a little smoother. The therapist stressed the importance of setting up a daily schedule to give my son consistency and confidence in his everyday life. Something with just pictures that my son could “read” on his own and could reference throughout the day to know what he was expected to do. We focused on simple tasks that he could follow through with and if he did it without putting up a fight he’d get a reward. While I don’t have a picture of the one I made, it was very similar to this chart by Monkey & Chops

It was simple enough to set up and follow through with. Our chart included a basic step by step picture list of the things we did consistently each day such as getting dressed, brushing teeth, and our bed time routines. It also included a couple things he was expected to be responsible for on his own such as putting away his backpack and shoes after school, and finding a quiet activity to do independently during his brother’s nap time. At the end of each day if he followed his routine well he got to pick a “treasure” out of a treasure box I put together that included some simple dollar store toys and treats such as stickers, slap bracelets, and candy. I was surprised to find out just how much of a difference this simple chart actually made in our daily lives. It gave my son a boost in his self confidence and helped manage some of his meltdowns since it kept his days consistent and focused on specific tasks and rituals. This helped with my levels of stress and anxiety as well since I’m a very routine and schedule oriented person myself and this led to our days running much smoother. The reduction in the screaming, yelling and crying (for us both!) was the biggest benefit of all.

Although it helped things a lot at first, after about six months of following our schedule chart I felt like my son had really outgrown it. The daily routine was so ingrained at this point that following his tasks was second nature and he was getting rewarded for things he barely had to put any thought or effort into. He began fighting with me over getting his rewards and about what kind of reward he wanted, which was counterproductive to the entire point of the chart! I needed to find a way to balance out the rewards and make him more accountable for his own behavior. I searched around a bit for some ideas and landed on this fantastic Melissa & Doug Responsibility Chart

I absolutely LOVED this chart. It comes with over 90 magnets that include responsibilities, positive behaviors, and rewards. There were two blank magnets included and the bottom half of the chart is a dry erase board, so it can be customized to suit your family’s needs. Since my son’s behavior was a big concern at the time, the fact that it had a whole bunch of positive behavior magnets such as “show respect”, “stop whining”, and “say please and thank you” was a big plus for us. We also added some simple responsibilities to make him accountable for taking care of himself and helping out around the house. Dressing himself was a big fight that we faced every morning, and adding the “get dressed” magnet to his chart and being able to put his own reward magnet on his chart after he accomplished getting dressed on his own every morning helped motivate him to get it done without a fight. We were finally able to get passed the issue and spend our mornings with a lot less screaming and crying (for all of us!). His self esteem soared as he delighted in doing new tasks around the house and watching his reward magnets build up on his chart.

I decided to move away from the treasure box reward system since it had started to backfire on me. I wanted to focus on something he liked to do but needed to earn. Screen time has always been a huge issue in our house. When my older two were babies, I strictly limited iPad time to outings only. It was a saving grace that helped us make it through dinners out and long doctor’s appointments, but I didn’t want them staring at them at home. I was one of those new high and mighty moms that was still trying to do everything right (hahahaha!). Then came the day that my oldest son stopped napping. Not only did I find myself exhausted and in desperate need of a break, but I also needed to find ways to keep him quiet so he wouldn’t wake up his brother. As much as I hate to admit it, I wound up giving him his iPad more often than not in an attempt to gain some quiet time and regain the last shreds of sanity I was holding onto. Of course, this led to bad habits and fighting with him over how often and how long he could have it. The Melissa & Doug chart was a perfect solution to our iPad problem. I decided to make every magnet he earned worth 5 minutes of screen time (iPad, video games, or a movie). He had the motivation he needed to try his best to work on his behavior, and I was able to get some moments of quiet screen time without as much guilt. Win win! The best part about this chart was how easy it was to change and update, so I was able to switch out some of the behaviors and responsibilities as he got older. It worked really well for our family for about 2 years.

Now that my oldest son is approaching his seventh birthday and the end of his kindergarten year, I thought it was time to step things up from basic responsibilities to actual household chores. My middle son is 4 now and has always been a more easy going kid so a behavior chart wasn’t really needed in his case, but he has started becoming obsessed with screen time as well so I knew I needed to find a way for him to have to earn his screen time just like his older brother. Since they are different ages and have very different dispositions I couldn’t make the Melissa & Doug chart work for two kids at once. I started searching around for different charts that are suitable for more than one child at a time. As I mentioned above, my husband and I realized we also needed a way to develop consistent consequences for negative behaviors, as well as the rewards for positive ones. My oldest has a behavior chart in his classroom that he talks about all the time. If they misbehave, they get moved down to a different color and each color has a consequence. After taking all of this into consideration, I scoured the internet (and asked friends and family) for advice on what chores were age appropriate that were realistic for my kids, and my husband and I discussed consequences for their behaviors that we could be consistent about and realistically follow through with as a team. In the end, for their chores, I decided to go with this fully customizable magnetic dry erase responsibility chalk board for the refrigerator.

That’s my actual chart on my refrigerator. It came with four chalk markers so I was able to color code each kid’s list so they know which color is their own. My youngest is having a harder time catching on without pictures to reference, but I started off with most of their jobs being the same so he can follow his brother’s lead. As some of the easier tasks become more routine to them than task, I’ll replace them with a new chore. We still use 5 minutes of screen time for each check mark they receive. I was surprised by how excited they actually were for our new chart and to take on new chores in our house! Instead of me nagging them to clear their plates from the table or feed the dog, they take initiative to do it on their own! My oldest has even been suggesting new ideas for chores that I can add to his chart, which I am all to happy to oblige!

For behavioral consequences, since my son references it every day anyway, I decided to copy the exact same chart that my son’s teacher uses in their classroom

Like I’ve said before, I’m not crafty or artistic in the least so it’s not exactly fancy or cute but it’s functional. We already had these magnets with their names on them so I posted the chart on the other side of the refrigerator so everything is all in one place. They start each day on “Super Seahorse” and move down each level when they misbehave. I always give a warning before moving them down, and if they continue the behavior they then get placed on the next spot down and have to pay the consequence. For now, the consequences are: green = 5 minutes standing in the corner (basically a time out), orange = losing their bedtime story for that night, and red = all checkmarks on their chart get erased and they lose any earned screen time. So far we’ve had really good results. We’re able to remind them of the chart when they start acting up and just the threat of getting their names moved down a level causes them to pause and reevaluate what they are doing.

All in all, for as reluctant and dismissive I was at the thought of them, these charts have been really helpful for our family. Of course it’s not a foolproof system and we do encounter the occasional downfall. The boys competing and fighting over who has earned more check marks, for example, has been an issue I didn’t expect and am now trying to find ways to remedy. We also have to be vigilant about following through with it. We’re definitely guilty of getting lazy and forgetting to follow up on it for a few days or weeks here or there, but we eventually get back to it and the kids respond positively each time. The system only works if you work it! But I must say, I’m really glad that I finally found some sort of way to manage even a fraction of the chaos that occurs in a house full of three boys under 7. So as long as the chore chart continues to work for me, I’ll be keeping up with it for sure! It’s safe to say that I’ve officially learned to embrace the chore chart! I absolutely recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a relatively simple way to manage the chaos in their lives as well. If this exhausted hot mess of a mom can do it, I promise that you can too!

Wanderlust With Kids? 5 Reasons Why We Prioritize Family Travel

“Why the hell would you want to take the kids with you?!” Or “Are you out of your mind? You’re going to spend how many hours in a (car, airplane, boat, etc) with three kids?! Why???!” These are questions I’ve gotten on many occasions when telling people about some of our family travel plans. I admit that they do have a good point. No one in their right mind REALLY wants to spend hours and hours traveling with small children, unless you’re some sort of masochist or have the patience of a holy saint. It also isn’t because I love my precious angels oh so much I just can’t bear to part with them for even a day to travel without them (I mean, I DO love them, but Mommy needs some space sometimes). Being a stay at home mom I also get plenty of quality time with my children right at home on a daily basis, so it’s not like I necessarily need to get away to experience togetherness with my brood. So why do we seem to always find ourselves on the go? Below I’ve outlined the top 5 reasons why we travel so often with our kids

1) Wanderlust
I definitely suffer from a bit of wanderlust, which is a big reason that we travel as much as we do. My one biggest regret in life is that I didn’t catch it earlier and travel more extensively before starting a family. Before having kids, my husband and I were known to randomly set off on vacations whenever the mood struck and we could swing it financially. We didn’t do a lot of adventurous or international travel, but living in south Florida made it easy to jump on a last minute weekend cruise deal or get in the car and head to Disney or Key West for the weekend. I always like to have a trip coming up to plan. I get anxious and feel trapped when I don’t. Even if it’s just a day trip to a nearby city. I love seeing new places and experiencing new things. Having vacations to plan also helps give me something to look forward to while I’m trudging through the tough days and long nights of raising three young kids. Knowing I have a small escape coming up helps keeps me positive and moving forward. I’ve gotten pretty good over the years at researching and finding great ways to save money on trips to allow us the ability to afford to get away here and there as well. Of course a lot of parents who enjoy travel and have the ability to leave the kids at home will still continue to do so on their own, but that brings me to my next point:

2) We don’t have much of a choice
While I’d love to be able to spend a few quiet weeks a year drinking wine in the Italian countryside alone with my husband, that’s just not something we are able to pull off at this point in time. We’ve been very lucky to have the occasional kid free vacation over the years, but it’s not something we can easily do more than once every year or two, and only for a few days at a time. Our parents still work full time, and we certainly can’t afford to leave them with a nanny (and I wouldn’t be comfortable with that option even if we could). Between everyones work and school schedules just trying to find any small block of time that works well for everyone involved is nearly impossible. Plus let’s face it, taking on the responsibility of three young boys for more than a few hours is a big favor to have to ask of anyone! So while we are extremely grateful for the times that all of the stars and moons align and we can get someone to take the kids for us to escape for a few days here and there, I don’t want to limit all of my life’s travels to a few days every two years. So, referring back to my wonderlust mentioned above, if we want to go and see and do, the kids have to come along. So while our days of our carefree, kid free type of vacations are mostly behind us, we decided to keep going away here and there when we could make it work, but with the kids in tow. It definitely isn’t always easy, and we’ve had quiet a few trips that were downright awful and disappointing and left us swearing we’d never take the kids anywhere again. However, being a stay at home mom, my days are filled with meltdowns, fighting, schlepping, sleepless nights, and an endless list of other miseries. So for me, dealing with these problems away from home doesn’t even bother me too much. The way I see it, I can deal with it all at home while also having to cook, clean, and deal with the normal daily grind. OR…I could put up with some of the usual crap from the kids while also sitting on a beach with a cocktail or driving through gorgeous mountain ranges and get a nice break from having to clean and cook (or at least much less than usual). There are lots of other benefits to family travel as well:

3) Family Bonding
Okay so this one is obvious, but I still had to include it because it really is so important. Of course we try to find ways to spend time with each other and our kids at home, but time together on vacation is just different. One of my favorite things about family vacations is getting to really spend time experiencing our kids together. My husband works long hours and our weekends tend to be crammed with social activities or things we need to get done and it doesn’t allow us a lot of time for the five of us to all be alone together. My husband and I often find ourselves taking a “divide and conquer” approach to balancing life with the kids which allows us each to get quality time with the kids one on one, but rarely both of us at the same time. So on vacation it’s really great to get to spend so much time with my husband and my kids all at once. This allows us to regroup and work together as a team and really examine our parenting and areas we need to change or work on. At the same time we get to marvel at what an awesome job we really are doing, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. It also gives the kids a lot of quality time with their Dad which they absolutely love. The kids spend more time playing together and having fun with each other too. Taking away the stress of daily life gives us all a chance to have fun together and learn new things about one another.

4) Life Lessons
Not only does traveling together as a family give my husband and I a chance to spend more time together and see and experience a lot of the places we want to without having to stress over child care arrangements, but it also helps provide my kids with valuable life experiences and opens their minds to places and things outside of their own environment and comfort zone. They get a chance to learn things about themselves and explore the things they have an interested in. At first we made the most of our family vacations out of necessity. We had no choice but to bring them so we took a “lets try to enjoy it the best we can” mindset and learned to adapt to a different way of experiencing our vacations. But now that our kids are getting a little bit older, it’s actually exciting for us to watch them experience new places and new things and seeing their true personalities emerge. It drives me to be more adventurous in our destination choices and the activities I want to plan for us.  We recently returned from a ten day vacation to Maui, by far the biggest vacation we’ve ever taken with the kids, and my six year old had a blast. He got to snorkel off of a catamaran, go ziplining, and learn to boogey board. My four year old was endlessly fascinated by the small details of nature, collecting rocks and leaves and noticing all of the wildlife around us we weren’t even paying attention to. The baby was able to overcome his fear of the water and really enjoy himself splashing around in all of the great kiddie pools the resort had. They all experienced and enjoyed the trip in wonderfully different ways, and it was so amazing to watch. This is what makes it worth it. This is why I want to keep traveling with the kids as much as we possibly can while they still actually WANT to go places with us.

My super excited six year old zipping for the first time in Maui

5) Experiences over Things
For the past few years we’ve really been trying to put an emphasis on spending money on experiences versus things. People strive to attain happiness in their lives, and in our society today a lot of people turn to a variety of expensive material objects in an attempt to bring them happiness. However, several scientific and psychological studies have shown that the real contribution to long lasting happiness and overall life satisfaction comes from spending ones money more on experiences than on physical objects. While a physical object may make us happy in the moment, our satisfaction with said object tends to fade over time, and we desire newer and better. But with life experiences, our satisfaction with the memories those experiences bring us does not fade. It contributes to our overall wellbeing and appreciation of life. We are in total a sum of all of our life experiences, good and bad. We form deeper relationships with people based on shared interests and experiences, not from someone owning the same possessions that we do. I want my kids to learn that material objects are not what matters in life. I want them to to experience the most life has to offer and be shaped by a wide variety of experiences outside of their day to day lives. Travel, museums, learning a new hobby, playing sports, all of these things help contribute to a life full of experience related enrichment. Yes, I understand that you can put a price on a vacation, or most activities for that matter, but you can’t put a price on the life lessons learned and the incredible memories you create. The same can’t be said for rooms full of toys and a closet full of designer clothes. We aren’t wealthy. We can’t just pick up and take the kids wherever we want, whenever we want without worrying about the cost. We budget and sacrifice just like all families do, we just try our best to fit occasional travels and activities into our budget. A little bit of money put away here and there, along with careful planning and deal hunting can make the occasional vacation a lot more doable than a lot of people think. I’d rather spend my money on a weekend trip to the beach or dinner at a new restaurant than a new purse or pair of shoes. Some years we are able to do a lot more than others, and we aren’t going to waste money that is better spent on something else we need, but we keep travel a priority in our lives. (Future blog posts on how to save money on travel will be coming soon!)

If there’s one top tip I can offer any parent looking to expand on their family travel plans, it’s to keep a positive mindset. Will a trip with little kids be all fun and happiness? No, no it won’t. Kids are kids and the meltdowns and tantrums and sleepless nights don’t come to a stop just because you’re on vacation (in fact, they can often be worse when away from home). It’s up to you to not let it discourage you, stress you out, and get you down. Let the little things go, keep a positive mindset, and focus on what truly matters. You’ll all have a much better time if you do. Get out there and enjoy the world with your kids, it’s worth it!

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