How To Use Charts And Lists In Parenting Happy Children


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Have you ever come up with charts and lists for your parenting? Did you make it fun for all of you? When my children were young many years ago, I wrote this article for Seattle's Child:  "Parenting by Charts and Lists."   Charts and lists may not rank with Dr. Spock for parenting guidance, but in my experience they've proven very practical. I'd like to show how you can use them for monitoring behavior changes, observing household chore patterns, stopping arguments, and enjoying memories, among other uses.

I've liked charts and lists for as long as I can remember, so it was natural I would incorporate them into my parenting. Some of the chore charts and behavior graphs only lasted a few days or weeks, depending on how preoccupied I was with other projects in my life, or on how effective the charts were in promoting the desired behavior. I used to think if I tried a new strategy more than once every few months, I had somehow failed on previous attempts. Now I am much more process oriented – I see new family plans as cooperative negotiations that will work as long as they work, and then we go back to round table discussions.

One chart we used was a 2' x 3' desk calendar on which I wrote phrases to show the behavior and accomplishments Nicky, (then 11) and Katie (8) had demonstrated, along with colorful stickers (funny faces) and words like, "terrific."
1)  For making spaghetti and sauce by themselves;
2) Nicky saying "I'm sorry" for something he'd done, without making excuses;
3) Katie for hanging clothes alone;
4) Nicky for a thorough job raking leaves;
5) Katie for saying "okay" in carrying out the garbage the first time asked;
6) Both ready with coats on at 1130, as I'd asked, to go on an outing.

Another possibility is getting 5 - 10 points for various tasks, and offering a trip to the zoo for 35 points, a movie or eating out for 65, and so on.
My favorite use of charts is for Christmas/birthday presents.  I draw lines to form 4 columns on the page, and then horizontal lines to make 5 to 7 rows of boxes. Each box lists a gift or coupon that they can redeem.
1) Mom makes me breakfast or supper in bed and waits on me for 15 to 30 minutes.
2) I get out of a consequence for doing something I shouldn't have done.
3) Overnight at a cabin or mountaineers lodge.
4) Good for two dollars anytime I ask; if for candy, it is good for one dollar.
5) Go swimming or bowling, with 1 to 24 hours notice.
6) Lessons in glassblowing (Nicky) or tumbling (Katie) or anything I want to learn. Mom pays for it all.
7) Eat out and see a movie or play after 10 times in the month I have marked that the kitchen and hall are clean.
8) Get out of doing a job mom asked me to do that would take 15 to 30 minutes.
9) Mom does whatever I ask her to do for 15 to 30 minutes: a game, a walk, reading comics to me, or whatever.
10) Skating, with 1 to 4 days notice.
11) A  4 - 8 hour trip to Enchanted Forest or Northwest Trek.
12) All the corn nuts I can eat by myself in one week, to be eaten when mom is home.
13) Good for five dollars cash after any seven days in a row that Mom has marked there was no arguing, talking back, or fighting.
14) Good for five rides at the Seattle Center or a fair or carnival.
15) If 100% on spelling test, $1 per week  for as many weeks as I have mom mark it.  ($5 maximum )
16) Good for $2 worth of writing/art/school supplies.
17) Mom gives me a massage or reads to me for 15 to 20 minutes, within 10 minutes after I ask.

I also helped them make a similar chart of presents I'd like from them to me: (their spirit was more willing at Christmas time then two months later, it is true.)
1) Go for a walk or talk with mom even if I'd rather not, for 15 to 30 minutes.
2) Play "In the Doghouse" or other word games with mom that she wants to play.
3) Make porcupine meatballs or hamburger casserole plus salad, set table, etc.
4) Have a surprise supper made when mom comes home so she doesn't know what to expect.
5) 15 minutes of talking about their feelings or what they like and want in their life, especially when they are mad or sad.
6) Do dishes or another job mom asks without any excuses, and with an "okay."
7) A letter to grandma and grandpa about at least four things in their life now.
8) Sing with mom or do something musical she wants to do.
9) Good for anything mom asked me to do right now, for 15 to 30 minutes.

I like the objectivity of charts and lists. When Nicky and Katie tired of practicing piano after only four months of lessons, I told them it was their choice to practice or not, but if they didn't practice 2 to 3 times a week for the next month, I would not pay for lessons. That was a hard choice for me, too, since I had a "should" about practice and about sticking with things one starts. So they only had one more piano lesson. The chart doesn't lie. But at least they got enough of a taste for it that they can take it up later if they like.

Another example: when we want to know who emptied the kitty litter or vacuumed or did the dishes, all we need to do is consult the sheet taped to the wall or fridge. When anyone is complaining about the amount of time jobs take, we can list all the jobs any of us do. The list we made in October that year included cooking, dishes, cleaning bedroom, sweeping, vacuuming, garbage, paper route, my job, laundry and food shopping. When we came up with 60 hours per week for me and 9 to 10 for them, being asked for extra help became more palatable to them, if not easier.

Parenting practices and standards may change. My lists certainly reveal some inflexibility in the "Behavior Guidelines for Campbell's"  I drew up three decades ago. Examples, some of which still do feel okay:  1) Hitting, name-calling must stop at once. If the person reminded is out of control, he or she must leave the situation at once and go to a separate place for 5 to 10 minutes.

2) Food--Help prepare food when asked, and state your wishes about food for shopping… Food or dishes left out, anywhere, will result in the person responsible being assigned to do ALL DISHES every day for a week.

3) Friends--No friends in the house without an adult here except with mom's permission each time… Any food or dishes left out by a friend are the responsibility of Nicky and Katie to see that they get put away… No overnight (here or away) on Friday unless rooms and bathrooms are totally done.

4) TV-- there is to be no TV before school, after school or any time without mom's permission.  If you ask and I say no, there is to be no fussing. (We agreed to no more than 9 hours TV a week).

Lists and charts needn't always be about rules or behavior. Sometimes they can serve as reminders and information. For instance, when my two were complaining one February day of all they had to do, we came up with a list of "have tos" and "choices." "Have tos" included dishes, sweeping, brushing teeth, going to school, monthly house meetings, bikes inside, eating what they take, wearing clean clothes, keeping the house key with them, shutting off lights when not in use, baths, church 1 to 2 times a month, writing dad 1 to 2 times a month, and bed by 10. All but three of those were still "have tos" in their teens. Their choices include how they wear their hair, their use of bikes and toys, eating what they want (with some exceptions), wearing what they want, spending allowance as they choose, choosing their friends, keeping their rooms as they like except for Saturday cleanup, and cooking and eating when they wish. The list was open to negotiation. My motto: "There's always a solution." And I remember even when my kids were adults, The Joy of Yes.

Another list we used that was for fun more than behavior change was a twice-weekly schedule of things to do together. We chose outings that we could all agree on--Tuesday we might bike together, swim, or canoe; Thursday we'd play on the school playground, roller skate at Green Lake or go to the Pacific Science Center. Having the structure ahead of time removed the arguments that could easily come up when three independent people all decided to push their own idea. And yet, if we all easily agreed, we were open to new options – a movie, board game, or spontaneous inspiration.

Lists can be a wonderful source of memories. When I was in Mexico for a month when they were 9 and 12, I typed up a list of all possible resources the surrogate parent might need. When I returned, I recorded the list of some of the activities they had enjoyed with young and grown friends that month. When they balked at writing to their dad, I made a list of 35 things they could tell about: a movie they'd seen, our cross-country ski experience, the tooth fairy, a Mountaineers Lodge weekend, new doll clothes, piano, hot tub, grades, new shelves for toys, new clothes, plastering with the carpenter friend, Rubik's cube etc.  They chose a few. And don't overlook Memories for the Grandma Book for their grandmas or for you to use when your kids have kids.

Charts and lists have been as wonderful a source of memories as photo albums and as complete a record of accomplishments and goals as most families ever keep. They have proven a simple way for the three of us back then to plan for what we want.  And best of all, they were enjoyable to make and to use.  Are you ready to try them out?

For a complimentary coaching call on any area you'd like to explore changes, call me at 206-938-8385 or email  Let's learn and enjoy together. Moreah

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