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How this Dad Stopped the Nagging and Started Rewarding Instead

March 24, 2016

Dadcapades Girl to do list croppedMornings are annoying

“Now that you are done eating, please go brush your teeth and get dressed for school.” <Five minutes later> “Put your lunch in your book bag. And why are your dirty clothes still on the floor?  How could you forget, they are right there in front of you.  Did you remember to brush your teeth?  No!!! Hurry up and brush them, the bus is almost here.”

After School is frustrating

“How many times do I have to tell you get your folder out of your book bag?  And why is your coat on the floor AGAIN.  <5 minutes later, after nearly falling to my death> “PICK UP YOUR DAMN BOOK BAG!!!!  I almost broke my neck tripping over it!!!”

Bedtime sucks

“OK, Jack, did you brush your teeth yet?  No?  C’mon brush your teeth.  Kaylee, please go pee already, I’ve asked you three times.”  <5 minutes later> “Why haven’t you brushed your teeth yet?  I don’t care if Sarah had your toy, you have to brush your teeth.  Why are you getting on the toilet?  YOU HAVEN’T PEED YET????”  <5 more minutes later> “OK, let’s go read your books.  I told you already to have your book picked out, do we need to skip a book tonight?  It’s already 10 minutes past your bed time, c’mon let’s go!”

A non-parent listening in on this spectacle just once may spontaneously become infertile to avoid ever experiencing this themselves. Yet, this song and dance repeats itself in our home day after day, week after week…and yes, year after brutal year.  “Someday we need to find a way to make this easier.”  I hate you “someday.”

After entirely too many non-somedays, someday has finally arrived.  It came too late to save my sanity.  Much too late.  But, it came none-the-less.

Someday is Here

One technique we’ve had some success with in the past is the idea of removing the parent versus child dynamic.  The basic idea is you make some other thing be what they are pitted against.  Something that isn’t the will of the parent.

The best example of this was our sons Kindle Fire with Kindle Free Time.  Free Time is an app that controls how long the tablet can be played for.  Once the specified time is up, that was it, tablet time was over.  There is nothing we can do about it, the tablet says time is up. This removed all whining, begging, and pleading because there was nothing we could do about it either.  It worked remarkably well.

One day while thinking back on that wonderful application that Apple STILL DOESN’T HAVE!!! I started wondering how I could do something like that with their various routines.  Something that would get us out of this groundhog day from hell that is our lives.  My son actually planted to seeds to the solution by, in a fit of exasperation, saying “I wish you would just make me a to do list instead of nagging me all the time.”

The Chart

So.  I did.  I created each kid their own customized routine chart.  It has pictures and words for each individual task they have to complete for Before School, After School, and the dreaded Bed Time.

We had to pick a reasonable number of tasks, so we went with ~5 to start.  Each task has a checkbox.  To make it easy to reuse, I laminated the sheets so they can use dry erase markers (you can pick up a laminator for as little as $14 at Aldi or Amazon).

The New Routine

Now, instead of ushering them through each irritating step, we just announce “OK, time to get your chart done!”  If we have a deadline, we will set a kitchen timer for motivation.  They now usher themselves through the processes, checking off boxes as they go.

Do we still have to nag?  Oh hell yeah, but it’s decreased the nagging by 80% at least.  Instead of that mess at the top of this post, we just say “you are running out of time to get your chart done.”  If we find clothes on the floor we just say “make sure each box is checked.”  Just the reduction in the number of words has made this a huge success; I no longer want to throw myself down the stairs from being tired of hearing my own voice.

The Reward…with Benefits

The chart alone would be somewhat effective.  It is definitely an improvement on the old model.  However, we needed something else to motivate them to want to use the chart.  We had also been struggling for a long time on how to hand out time on their tablets.  It’s been a major source of contention (Apple REALLY needs a Free Time like service).

So, we decided to reward them with iPad time for successfully completing their charts with minimal nagging.

Each Sunday night they get a 30 minute token to be used the following weekend.  Then for each day they successfully complete all 3 routines, they get a 15 minute token.  Then come the weekend, they turn the tokens in for iPad time.

If they have a perfect week, they get 2 hours and 15 minutes of iPad time to use throughout the weekend.  Not only is this a great motivator, but it once again gets us out of the “keepers of the iPad” game.  We can now say “sorry, you used up all of your tokens.  There is nothing we can do about that.”  We aren’t the bad guy.  If they do better next week, they can have more time.

One thing we have decided to never do, is take tokens away once they’ve earned them.  We can deny them getting a token on a specific day for bad behavior (though I really want to limit that), but we cannot go into their room and take one away.  At this point, taking their tablet away is the nuclear option, only to be used for egregious misbehavior.

The Tokens

Rather than use plastic coins or pretend money, I made my own tokens.  I picked something they liked and put the number of minutes that token is worth on it.  Then I printed them, laminated them, and cut them out like coins.  This also avoids any shenanigans where they may “accidentally” end up with each other’s tokens since they are unique.

The kids each have a special spot where they put the tokens they earn so they know right where to find them come cash in time.


Once they get used to this setup and start becoming more reliable with their charts, we intend on adding some extra options.  Examples:

  1. Trade in tokens for money
  2. Earn additional tokens by doing extra chores
  3. Tokens for grades maybe?
  4. Gift tokens just because we feel like it

Is it Working?

After three weeks I can say it is absolutely working.  It’s not perfect.  There are days where we still have to remind them to do things on their chart…but it feels like reminding now, not nagging.  I haven’t said “brush your teeth” or “did you go to the bathroom” in over a week, that is down from 20 times in a night (seriously…20 times).

I’ve included the links to the original Microsoft Publisher file as well as the charts in PDF and JPG.  Feel free to hack em up and make them your own.  If you use them, let me know how it goes.


Dadcapades To Do List – To Do list in Publisher format (need to change the file extension to .pub)

Dadcapades to do list – To Do list in PDF

Time Tokens – Time Tokens in Publisher format (need to change the file extension to .pub after downloading

Time Tokens – Time Tokens in PDF



From → Chart, Uncategorized

  1. Decreasing nagging by 50% sounds good to me.
    Glad it’s working out.

  2. We’ve set up a similar system and it works great! I like the charts you use though, they are well thought out.

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