Parenting tip #80: Why Job Charts Stop Working

Parenting Hack #64(1)

I would just beat myself up every time our job chart, or practice schedule, or fill-in-the-blank-routine stopped working.  “If only I had more grit!  I need to keep on them about making their beds! I hate that everything falls apart. I can’t be the only one managing this, it’s too hard.”  And I would devise a fool-proof, silver-bullet, last-job-chart-we-will-ever-need system.  It would start with great momentum and then about 3 months later be tossed on the heap of dead and seriously maimed job charts.

Then I had a conversation with a mother of 9 grown kids who said, “Oh, you know those job charts never work for more than about 3 months.  You have to constantly be changing things up.”

And **whoosh** all that guilt vanished.  It’s not us!  It’s just LIFE.  And parenting is a full-time job that requires constant tweaking and adjusting to fit each kid, each day.  There is no silver bullet to routine tasks.  Don’t buy any product that claims to be one. (That’s the only thing to feel guilty about.)

Our minds have to be economical about what they pay attention to, they can’t engage with every sensory distraction at once.  We’d blow our circuits.  So we have developed an Attentional Filter.  We can be in a crowded room and overhear lots of conversations, and still just focus in on the one we are a part of.  Or, we can overhear “Drug smuggling ex-boyfriend” in a nearby conversation, and immediately our attention is there.  And we crane our neck to try and get some more details.  This is what understands.

The Attentional Filter is set off by two things: change and importance.  So the “drug smuggling ex-boyfriend” would be under the importance heading.  Certain words and objects grab our attention.  Money is one of them.  So is the prospect of watching a show or eating a bunch of candy for my kids.  This is why the rewards associated with doing their jobs or practicing or whatever their tasks are can grab their attention and provide them with some internal momentum in remembering to do their jobs.

But inevitably, these rewards become commonplace.  They no longer stir the kids’ attention and they ignore all the stimuli to do their jobs.  The big poster or sticker page on the wall just becomes an invisible part of the house.  At this point we resort to drastic threats.  “If you don’t feed those dogs, I’m going to sell them!!!”  And the kids go, “Meh.  I doubt it.”  But maybe they grudgingly do it.  After you nag several times.  But the thing is dead, there is no momentum from the kids and the burden of it all comes landing squarely on the parent’s shoulders.  Its so heavy.  It multiplies your workload by a factor of the number of kids in your home.  At this point, it is easier to just do their jobs for them than to force them to do their jobs.  And thus the job chart unravels.

But wait!  There’s another handle hanging off of that attentional filter!  It’s Change.  Changing things up lasers in that attention again.  If you want them to listen to a new family rule, rearrange the furniture.  Move bedrooms around.  Have a picnic outside when you want to have a special conversation.  Whenever things are different, people pay attention, especially kids.  They look at you with curious, bright eyes wondering what fun is in store for them.  And so it goes with job charts and rewards– plan on changing things up periodically (in my experience, about every 3-6 months).  Change the time of day you do your jobs.  Have them practice their instrument with a timer or some M&Ms for each repetition.  Make a family store that they can shop at with fake money.  Sticker charts.  Baking cookies during Saturday Morning Jobs and everyone rushes to do the next one before the timer goes off.  Pay an allowance and expect that they will just work.  Pay for each job individually.  Use poker chips to keep track and create a family economy.  Put all the job tokens in a jar that is building up toward a fun family vacation.  There are endless possibilities. (Please share any of your favorites in the comments section.)

A change in the routine will refocus their attention on their tasks and take the load off of you.  When the jobs charts are working, the parents’ only job is thinking of the next version.

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