Start with a master list. Developing a list of all the jobs that are needed to keep your house functioning is a great beginning. Think about daily tasks like meal preparation, dishes, vacuuming, bedroom cleaning, pet care and so forth. Then list the weekly tasks like bathroom cleaning, weed pulling in the garden, mopping the kitchen floor, washing the family car and more. Getting a comprehensive list together may make the discussion overwhelming, but it is important to get the list right the first time.
Be prepared to negotiate. It is important when you share the list in your family meeting to be ready to listen to the children's concerns. Some older children may have jobs or big homework loads. Some jobs may be too big for the smaller ones. One dad I know even suggested giving the list to the kids and having them work together to divide them up-at least the work assignments will be balanced.
Once you've got the chore system underway, what are the best ways for keeping the children motivated and moving?
Be clear about expectations. One creative dad I talked to prepared a "job card" for each chore and put them in a little binder made for index cards. The job card included the expectation ("room cleaned" means the bed is made, all clean clothing is put away, all dirty clothing is in a hamper, and the only things on the floor are furniture) as well as a list of needed supplies, where they are found, and to where they should be returned. This way, if the work doesn't meet your expectations, you can just point to the card.
Make some cleaning kits. A mom I know purchased a few plastic carrying cases with compartments in them. In each case, she put some cleaning rags, a liquid cleanser, a sprayer with window cleaner and a scrub brush. The kit is put in a linen closet and is ready to grab and go when it is time to clean the kitchen counters or the bathroom. You could even make a kit for each important chore.
Help them see progress. For years, our family has used a variety of chore charts to help the kids remember their chores and do them. One of my favorites was one we used during the winter months. We made a snowman for each of the children and put one chore each on the snowballs, the stick arms, the carrot nose, the hat and scarf. Each morning, as they completed the appropriate chore, they put that part of the snowman on the chore chart (Velcro was a great invention!) When the snowman was all done, they would be so excited! Sometimes they would even race to see whose snowman was done first. Using chore charts to help them (and you) see their daily or weekly progress is a good motivation tool.
Have reward systems. I don't think you should bribe children to get chores done. But there should be some reward structure to help motivate them. After all, when they get older and get a job in the real world, they will at least have a paycheck for motivation. For our youngest son, time with the GameCube is a big motivator. So every day that all of his chores are done before school, he can earn 15 minutes of video game time on Saturday. Each child will be motivated differently-find what works for them and then do it.
Set the example. One of the best things a dad can do is to set the example of personal responsibility. If you have a regular assignment (clean out the garage, etc.) do it on time and within expectation. Other dads suggest that they try to never complain about their job, their supervisor or their coworkers, so the kids will know and see that they take their own responsibilities seriously. Being a good example goes a long way to making the chore world work well at home.
Remember it takes time. During my earliest years as a dad, I often thought about how much faster I could get something done myself rather than teaching my son or daughter to do it for me. And that is true in the early stages. But later in life, when the kids all know and perform their responsibilities, it gives the whole family more time later-not just more time to work but time to play and have fun together. It's a worthwhile investment of your time to teach personal responsibility through effective household chores.