One Simple Hack to Gamify Kids’ Chores

published Mar 10, 2021
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Credit: Liz Calka

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One of the most utterly soul-sucking requirements of being a parent for me is having to repeat myself over and over and over again. Having to make my request, hold it in my mind, check to see whether it’s been done, see that it hasn’t been, remind them again, remember to check, see that it still hasn’t been, trying not to lose my temper — it’s exhausting. And clearly, the entire rigamarole is just as fun for them as it is for me. 

But at one point a couple years ago, a lightbulb went off and I tried facilitating something for them that’s always worked for me: making a checklist for them that they could check off. I folded a paper into thirds and tore it, grabbed a different colored marker for each kid, and made a cheery checklist complete with big empty check boxes screaming to get checked off. 

I tried to make it fun by including list items like “give Mommy a ten-second hug” or “do 25 jumping jacks.” I added little notes of encouragement to each one, like “You’re awesome!” or “You can do it!” or “Now you’re free!” and embellished each name, as I always do, with a star for the boys and a heart for the girls. 

Those lists are like little miracle workers. 

When I hand them to the kids or leave them on their desks for them to see, they might do some grumbly huffing and puffing. But I usually let them know that once they’re done, they can watch something or play outside with their friends or have a cookie or something, and they’re motivated to finish. 

The list puts the things they have to do in their own hands, literally and figuratively. It eliminates the asking and nagging and, though they might complain about “all the stuff they have to do,” they don’t argue with me and sooner or later they work their way down it. 

I even made a more permanent version for the chores and responsibilities that are on repeat: I typed out and laminated the detailed steps of the kids’ chores. So, for example, I wrote down the steps they should take when cleaning their rooms (pick up items on the floor, wipe down surfaces, vacuum, etc.). I punched holes in the separate lists, put a binder ring through them, and gave each of my bigger kids a set. They check off their boxes with a dry erase marker and can reuse their lists.

I wrote I Can Get You Addicted to Cleaning: Dopamine and the Checklist almost exactly seven years ago, and while I can’t say that my kids are addicted to cleaning, I can say that I’m addicted to giving them checklists because they’ve made such a drastic difference in how things get done and in the overall atmosphere of our home.