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A Chore System that Truly is Working -- My Spin on Chore Sticks with Popsicle Sticks with Factors

December 20, 2022
Homeschooling Blogs

Before I get to this post, I need to say that if you've heard of "Chore Sticks" before, from what I've seen my method is quite different than the other ones I've seen online, so don't assume that you've seen it already; read on.

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The Messy House Problem

My house has a mess problem. By nature, my ADHD makes it really hard for me to focus on cleaning my house- I'm very scatterbrained, which actually has benefits for me in some ways, but definitely poses large challenges in other ways. People keep try telling me to just "clean as I go" but that feels impossible to me. I've tried multiple times to attempt that but my brain doesn't really allow me to do that.

Add in health issues and other stressors. While I was the stay at home parent throughout my marriage, I dealt with 9 months of nausea and puking (yay hyperemesis) and then once my kids were born I dealt with very challenging high needs babies and toddlers who didn't necessarily get much easier as they got older. This definitely caused tension in my marriage, as my then husband felt that since I was the one home all day long, I should be the one cleaning and organizing the place, but as hard as I tried I simply wasn't able to do as good of a job of it as he wanted, so he ended up pitching in a lot with the cleaning and organizing.

As a single mom now, it is all on me to get the house clean and keep it that way, or get my kids to help. Over the years I tried many different ways to get my kids to help around the house, but they all had their down sides, and all of them petered out because... guess what? ADHD makes consistency hard for me too!

Now it has been more challenging than ever to keep my place clean, since it I've been dealing with significant mental health issues and my body simply doesn't cooperate. Not only does doing most housework cause me immense pain, when my anxiety is bad (and it has been pretty bad lately) sometimes even doing basic life tasks is too much, let alone keeping my house up to snuff.

But while I don't have my ex at home grumping at me about the messy house, I have my sons, who are old enough to appreciate and desire a clean house, and are frustrated enough about the state of the house. I mean, don't get me wrong, I also don't like a messy house, and when it gets messy enough my anxiety gets so bad and it makes it even harder for me to function. But that appreciation for clean doesn't make it any easier for me to be neat.

I want to clarify that my sons do help around the house. They, since I separated from my ex over 4 years ago, have been the ones to take out the garbage. (I've taken out the garbage very, very few times since then.) They pitch in to clean up with various things, as do my girls, but they get frustrated because they feel like their sisters aren't helping as much as they are, and therefore the boys have to pick up the slack. (In the case of my kids, my boys are the older ones, 13 and 15, and girls 11 and 8.5, so its not about the genders, but the ages.) My daughters also have a hard time with neatness and cleanliness (yay ADHD and autism) and in general, it's just a situation where lots of people are frustrated. 

Things needed to change.

Problem Solving

One time after a conversation with my kids about the topic, when they were trying to explain how much the mess is stressing them out, I literally sat down on the floor and started crying, because the situation was also stressing me out, but I couldn't fix it on my own, my brain and body were fighting me with this, and I didn't feel I had the parenting tools or money to throw at the situation to solve the problem for me. 

I decided to call a family meeting, because I knew I didn't have solution, my kids were old enough to problem solve, and anything that we did would have to be something everyone agreed upon. This way everyone would be able to share the issues they were having with the situation, propose solutions, and collaborate on ideas until we made a decision.

I can't give you exact details of the family meeting (my memory is terrible) but someone brought up this idea of points and each kid needing a certain amount of points, and I remembered seeing some ideas about using popsicle sticks when it came to chores, so suggested using those.

Issues that came up:

  • Daily chores don't really work, because not every kid is here every day. If someone doesn't do their chore that day then the kid the next day ends up with more work.
  • Incentives needed to be used, but also disciplinary methods if the incentives didn't work.
  • Not every chore is as difficult as the others.
  • Sometimes I needed something done right then and I couldn't wait until the kid whose turn it was got home and/or got around to doing it.

Our Solution- Popsicle Jars for Points

What we ended up doing was as follows:

  1. We made a list of chores that needed being done each week, as well as how many times a week they needed to be done (on average).
  2. The kids decided which chores were hardest to do and we gave them rankings from 1-5 with 5 being the hardest.
  3. We decided that kids needed to get a minimum amount of points per week to not be disciplined, but getting over a certain amount would get a reward.
  4. If all the easier chores were taken by someone else and a kid wanted to get more points, either to not get disciplined, or to get rewarded, they'd have to do something they didn't like as much, because first come first serve- the early bird gets their pick of the chores.
  5. If a kid did something the first time I asked, or immediately, they get bonus points. I also have bonus points to give out for things not on the list.

I went and bought large popsicle sticks and wrote the chores on them, the amount per week I assumed I'd need them done, and since my youngest doesn't read so well, I also drew symbols/simple pictures to remind her of what they are. I also bought jars for each of the kids as well as jars for the chores.

We discussed that the first week would be a trial, to see what was reasonable, and to see what adjustments needed to be made. At first I thought 20 points would be needed to not be disciplined, and 25 to get rewarded, but that if I saw it was too easy I'd increase the needed amount of points, and if it was too challenging I'd lower it.

A big thing that needed to be factored in was this:

My second and youngest go to their dad twice a week and every other Saturday. My oldest goes to his dad only every other Saturday but comes home late from school and after school classes (arriving home between 8 and 9 pm earliest) 3 days a week. And my third has challenges of her own that make this harder for her. Additionally, if a kid is sick, or is on a trip and isn't home for part of the time, I may decide to lower the amount of points they need that week.

The first week, no one managed to get 20 points.

But the second week we lowered it to 15 points to not be disciplined and 20 and up to get rewarded.

Consequences and Rewards

If a kid gets under 15 points:

  • For my daughters, their devices are password protected and locked for a week (we generally have rather liberal timing with movies) unless I let them watch an educational show or two.
  • For my younger son, I change the password to lock him out of Netflix and Disney plus for a week. (He needs his phone, I can't lock him out of it entirely.)
  • For my older son, he can't socialize after school/his after school classes for a week.

If the kids get 20 points or more, for every point (including 20), they get a quarter.

Let me tell you, I've never seen my daughters help more. Jobs that they always refused to do they now were willing to put up with the grossness (filling the dishwasher) because it gave them a lot of points! Things that were constantly a fight (taking showers) were getting done more often (I know those aren't chores but I give points for those because the younger ones need motivation there as well). And things that hadn't gotten done in far too long got done because the other easier ones were taken.

Earlier on in the week the kids do tend to do less, but I remind the kids as the end of the week is approaching that they have to reach 15 or they'll regret it.

I do have a special reward for my kid who got the most points by Friday evening, but the week for points only ends at bedtime on Saturday.

The Results Are In -- Success!!!

This coming week will be the fourth week we're doing this. This currently is lasting longer than any other method I tried in the past. And it isn't going to stop. My younger ones are thrilled to have ways to make money, and my older kids are happy the younger ones are finally helping more. And I, since the kids are helping more around the house, I am able to do housework that had been pushed off because I was in triage and those weren't as urgent. And there isn't fighting and things are calmer and there's no "but he/she never helps" or "why are you always asking me?". 

It has been working so well that my kids' friend went home and asked her mom to do something similar because she also wants a way to earn points, and it is starting to work there too. Her mom has a positive jar and a negative jar, taking away points for specific behaviors as well, something that you can decide if you want to or not. I suggested to her that as long as her kid ends up in the positive the kid gets rewarded. She also removes any negative points if the kid writes an apology letter for their behavior.

The Details

Here is a list of things that I have popsicle sticks for. When there are multiple numbers, it is because it isn't always worth the same amount (making eggs for dinner vs cooking a whole meal do not get the same amount of points, nor is tidying up always the same). I decide how many points the kids get to take for each one. 

I have them broken down into two general types and keep the stock of available popsicle sticks in two jars based on that because they don't fit all into one and this way it is easier to find them. 

Food Related Sticks

  • Meal Prep 1, 2, 3, 4
  • Clean Table 1, 2
  • Fill Dishwasher 5
  • Empty Dishwasher 3
  • Hand Wash Dishes 1, 2
  • Put Away Groceries 2
  • Clean Stove 5

Other Sticks

  • Tidy Up 1, 2, 3
  • Wash Laundry 1
  • Separate and Put Away Laundry 2
  • Clean Bathroom 2
  • Clean Toilet Room 3
  • Clean Bedroom 2
  • Sweep 1
  • Mop 3
  • Take Out Trash 1
  • Organize Shoes 1
  • Shower 1
  • Walk Dog 2

Don't worry, I do the things on the list here too, but this is just how many points the kids get if they do it. Obviously, if you make something like this, you can decide how many points each thing is worth. 

Tweaks I made/ things to note

  • At first, I didn't include multiple-point options for some of these chores but realized quickly that not every tidying up, for example, was worth the same amount
  • Originally points were only going to be for doing communal laundry (linens, towels, rags, etc...) but I saw that the kids were pushing off doing their own laundry, so decided that they'd get points for that too.
  • Even if there are multiples of a certain chore for during the week, some can only be done once a day for points, and others only as needed (sorry, sweeping an hour after the last one swept does not get you points).
  • My pictures aren't masterpieces- as long as my youngest gets what they mean, that is all that matters.

Any questions about how this works? So, what do you think? How do chores work in our home, do you have a system? Does this look like a chore system that would work in your home? 


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