Apps and web sites are making it easy to reward children for doing work around the home. But are prizes always a good thing?
Taking household chores off the charts
Tidy your bedroom. Wash up. Put the toys away. Pack your school bag. Empty the dishwasher.
There are plenty of jobs around the home we'd love our kids to help with, but whether they choose to comply is another matter.
In the past, parents struggling to motivate children might have used sticker charts. But these paper charts are being consigned to history with the emergence of apps that enable parents to measure, record, add up and share their children's chore success with the whole family.
The Choremonster app claims it will make your kids "beg" to do chores. It works by allowing parents to create scheduled chores with point values. When kids have completed them, parents can approve and dish out points, which lead to rewards.
Other chore apps include Chore Hero, Chore Pad and iChores, which all work on a similar premise. iChores claims to "teach your kids responsibility and make your job easier. Kids can use it [the app] themselves, and let their parents know via Facebook how much they are owed. Give them weekly chores with real dollar amounts. Just like if they had a job and were paid by the task".
Similarly, the website Childzilla offers online chore charts. Parents can award points when chores are done and add comments each day. The site encourages parents to assign point values to prizes and children to make a wish list for awards.
According to one mum on the MommyPoppins website, chore apps work: "This evening, my 7-year-old unloaded the dishwasher, swept the kitchen floor, made his bed, picked up his toys ... this is the first time he ever did some of those things. The magic behind the household chore windfall was a new app: EpicWin."
EpicWin has the interface of an adventure computer game: users pick an avatar and create quests (chores), which have different point values.
Despite the plethora of chore apps and their probable success, the thought of paying your kids to do jobs around the house may make your stomach turn. After all, when you've fed, clothed and cared for these little people from birth, is it too much to expect them to take on the odd job?
"When you reward your child with money for carrying out basic tasks such as keeping their room tidy or clearing up for dinner, you are creating the impression that these are not normal expected behaviours," says Amy Bailey, a clinical psychologist at KidsFirst Medical Center in Dubai (www.kidsfirst.ae).
In defence, the Childzilla website states: "While most parents understand the idea of 'consequences' for bad behaviour, the 'rewards' for good behaviour are often forgotten. Childzilla is designed to help you say 'great job' to your kids." The Childzilla people call it "positive reinforcement".
Therese Sequeira, a parent educator at KidsFirst, agrees: "It is essential to reward children for helping out with chores around the home. Generally speaking, when parents reward children, they are encouraging their children's desirable behaviours to occur more often. Parents who ignore 'good' behaviours will see them decrease over time."
Bailey says: "Chores can help children to feel included and that they are making a positive contribution. This in itself, combined with praise from yourself, is rewarding for the child," says Bailey.
Ultimately, age plays a big part in the appropriate style of reward. For younger children, some good, old-fashioned attention, descriptive praise and stickers (real or virtual) should do the job, but once children approach the terrible teens, hard cash tends to be a greater motivator. Instead of a regular allowance, set up a system in which children earn money for doing chores beyond those that they are expected to do anyway.
Experts agree that it's good to get children on to the chore trail young. "Start at an early age with small jobs," advises Bailey. "This way the child has the expectation from a young age that there are things they can do to help."
And beware of the maid. "It is important in terms of your child's development as a member of society that they still be given opportunities to engage in normal household tasks," she says.
Getting them to cooperate
Elizabeth Pantley, the author of parenting books including Kid Cooperation: How to Stop Yelling, Nagging and Pleading and Get Kids to Cooperate, gives the following advice on issuing chores:
If kids aren't expected to regularly follow through, they might start putting off chores in the hope that someone else will do it for them.
Be specific with instructions
"Clean your room" is vague and can be interpreted in any number of ways. Instead, be explicit by saying, "Put your clothes in the wardrobe, books on the shelf," et cetera.
Go easy with reminders and deadlines
You want the chore to get done but you don't want to micromanage it. Use the "when/then" technique, such as, "When the pets are fed, then you may have your dinner."
Tasks by age
Help make bed
Pick up toys and books
Put rubbish in bin
Help wipe up spillages
Put dirty clothes in washing machine
Help feed pets
Help prepare dinner
Set the table
Help load the dishwasher / wash up
Put away groceries
Empty waste bin
Make a bowl of cereal
Help make and pack lunch
Vacuum and mop
Sweep the floor
Help fold and put away laundry
Make their bed
Keep bedroom tidy
Make their own snacks
Help wash car
Help prepare simple meals
Operate washing machine and dryer
Write shopping list
Take rubbish out
Replace light bulbs
Clean out fridge
Mow the grass