Growing Responsibilities

It’s that time of year once more, when children begrudgingly return to school and parents cheerfully rejoice. Although our kids are now gainfully employed during the day, the headache of morning, after-school and bedtime routines set in. Lunches, water bottles, homework, school activities, sports, showers, laundry…it seems endless. If your household is anything like mine, mornings are the worst. My son is thankfully excited to go to school most days, but so much so that he can’t remember anything he needs. We are going on our 4th year of school and I still have to remind him to get his water bottle, his lunchbox, his homework, even his socks. It’s the same after school. His backpack gets thrown on the floor as he walks into the house, and his lunchbox sits til the next morning letting old food stench permeate the recesses of the bag.

The other morning we were running late like most mornings. I had asked my son about his water bottle six times, had to remind him to get his socks, and he couldn’t find his backpack. As we were racing out the door some kind of argument flared up and I lost it. Me losing it isn’t uncommon, but this bought of crazy-mom was accompanied by motivation for change. I was done with the demands, the arguing, the entitlement, and the ignoring of responsibilities. He is in third grade this year, and his teacher explained that this is the year we as parents need to stop holding our children’s hands. I realized I needed to do better at teaching my son responsibilities. I had thought about responsibility charts off and on over the years. I used a little magnetic one when he was little, but it didn’t last long. This time I needed to make one that became a staple. I needed to make one that will help him learn and grow.

Over the years I’ve read a lot of parenting articles. The two most important things that I found in those articles are that children need to feel like they have some control over their life, and they need to feel like they are a part of the home and family. So I set about creating a plan that would integrate these two philosophies, while mimicking true life as much as possible. Since his weekday priority is school, his weekday responsibilities would be focus on school and homework. The weekends would be for bigger tasks such as cleaning his room and helping around the house. My son has ADHD, as do I, so I know that an important component of teaching an ADHD child is providing rewards. Thus, my responsibility plan needed rewards. My son, like all kids these days, loves screen time. This year I initiated a new, ‘no screen time during the school week’ policy so his desire to watch his iPad on the weekends is even greater. Screen time would be a big incentive for him to take his responsibilities seriously and behave. He also loves toys, what kid doesn’t, and toys I often don’t always understand. So I wanted to give him the opportunity to earn money to buy his own toys.

The plan I came up with was separated into weekdays and weekends. Weekday responsibilities include getting ready for school, unpacking after school, homework, making sure he has clean clothes, and keeping his room somewhat organized. I also added feeding the dogs as a simple household responsibility. These tasks earn him screen time. For each task, he earns a certain number of points that translate to minutes on his iPad. I didn’t want him to earn money for these responsibilities, because they mirror our adult responsibilities—things we have to do without reward. His weekend responsibilities include cleaning his bedroom and bathroom. My intent for these responsibilities is to help him learn respect for his space and his things. As he’s gotten older, his disregard his toys, our house, his clothes, especially the effort I put into keeping our house clean, has bothered me more and more. I thought it was important he learn what goes into keeping a house clean and organized, and knew it needed to be a part of his regular responsibilities. Since he enjoys using the vacuum and steam mop, I thought those responsibilities were a good place to start.

Like real life, I also wanted to offer him the ability to earn real money for tasks above and beyond his regular responsibilities. These things include vacuuming and mopping other rooms in the house, unloading the dishwasher, taking the garbage out, picking up his little sister’s toys, etc. Each of these tasks also has a certain number of points, but the points translate to dollars. The money he earns can be used for toys, going to the movies, going out to eat…whatever he wants to use it for. I wanted this plan to mirror real life as much as possible with regular responsibilities, the ability to earn money, and consequences for poor behavior. Thus, he gets points deducted for various things that don’t align with our ideal for good behavior. I won’t get into that, because we all have different family values, but you get the idea.

His responsibility plan has only been in place for about a week, but I already notice a difference in our morning routine. The last few mornings have been quicker, needing fewer reminders by me, and there has been less arguing. This past Saturday morning, as he was counting up his screen time points, he actually thanked me for creating his responsibility plan. I’m noticing that this plan is also helping him gain some of the control he seems to need, and will hopefully soon help him feel more a part of the household as a young man instead of a child.

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