Raising Responsible Kids: The Checklist


So far in this series, we have discussed the importance of:

  1. having a plan
  2. allowing our kids to experience consequences for their actions and choices
  3. good communication
  4. taking action sooner rather than later

Now I’m going to share with you one of the practical things I’ve done that has REALLY helped the tone in our home go from nagging and frustrated to pleasant and agreeable — the checklist.  This was actually my mom’s idea after she witnessed my get-the-kids-out-the-door-to-school chaos on her last visit.

I called a family meeting after school one day, and with their help (my kids are 4, 7, and 10 so they had some input, but of course I guided the discussion) we came up with three checklists for each of them — Morning (things they must do before they may join the family at the breakfast table), Afternoon (things they must do after school before they can play), and Bedtime (things they must do before bed.)

Then I went to the computer and created the document and hung it on the side of the fridge in the kitchen, where we spend most of our time as a family.  It would probably be a good idea to put them in their rooms as well.


In the morning, I have breakfast ready at 7:30.  They may join us if they are ready.  And here’s the key.  I DON’T NAG.  I wake them up at 7:00 and tell them they are welcome to join us at breakfast when their morning checklists are done.

Since they don’t all tell time well yet, I give them one or two matter-of-fact reminders, like a friendly “five minutes till breakfast!”  One of the books I read recommends giving no reminders.  Let them experience the consequences, and they’ll learn, it says.  While I’m certainly willing to let them experience the consequences (that is KEY; they must be allowed to fail in order to learn), I don’t have a problem giving them a couple friendly reminders.  I mean, heck, I need a reminder every once in a while.  But I don’t nag or get upset if they aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing.

I have one child that is repeatedly not at the table by 7:30, and I will often go to the bottom of the stairs at about 7:35 and say, “Are you planning to take the bus to school, or are you going to pay me to drive you?”  See Raising Responsible Kids: Take Off the Bumpers {Consequences} for the background.  That almost always gets them moving, and I don’t feel like I’m nagging them to come to breakfast.  Phrasing things in the form of a question and offering two choices puts the responsibility back on their shoulders. I only do this once, by the way.

If they aren’t at the table by 7:50, then I clean up and they miss breakfast.  That hasn’t happened yet, although sometimes they end up eating cold waffles.

The idea here is that they are fully dressed and ready for school when they come to the breakfast table, so they should have no problem making the bus at 8:00, should being the key word, of course.  If they are late to breakfast, they sometimes are scrambling to get to the bus, but I have been true to my word, and I haven’t nagged or gotten upset once.  Allowing a child to miss the bus one morning was the best thing I ever did because now they have an incentive to get themselves out the door.  No one wants to take money from their precious allowance stash or do extra chores to pay me to drive them to school.


When they get home from school, they have to complete their Afternoon Checklist before they can go outside to play. The Afternoon Checklist includes hanging up coats and backpacks and bringing me any papers or homework they have to return to school.  I do my best to be all there when they walk in the door.  By that I mean that I’m not in the middle of a project on the computer, and the kitchen table is clear of clutter so that they have a place to do their homework.

Usually they have to do any and all homework before they can play.  While they do their work, I go through their papers, sign the ones that need to be signed, and generally help them keep things neat and orderly.  If I think about it, I check my son’s homework log to be sure he’s doing what he needs to be.

Yes, I realize this is micromanaging.  I would rather not be quite this involved but I haven’t yet come up with a better plan, although I hear good things about Rosemond’s Ending The Homework Hassle and Lee Canter’s Homework Without Tears.  I haven’t had time to read them yet so I’m going to ride out this year doing what we’re doing now, but next year I will probably read one or both of those books and try to find something that doesn’t require me to be checking everything so closely.

Once their homework is done and everything is in their backpacks, ready to go back to school the next day, they are free to play until dinnertime.  (As an aside, I have hooks on the side of the fridge where we hang papers and homework that aren’t due the very next day so we don’t lose track of them.)


The evening checklist is basically everything they need to do to get ready for bed, and I included homework and studying math facts and reading and any other daily school-related tasks on this list as an extra measure of insurance.  They are also supposed to lay out their clothes and shoes for the next day.  If they are done in time, they get a story before going to bed.

This works best when we get them started early.  I try to give them  plenty of time to do what they need to do, but of course it doesn’t always work perfectly.  I think the key to making this type of thing work is to be flexible, but not TOO flexible.  It’s a fine line, and we’re still finding it.

The checklists are great because not only do they remind the kids what they need to do, they remind my husband and me what we need to be doing. Again, I realize that the goal is to put the responsibility on the kids, but this way we all have some accountability.

I realize this is nothing novel or new, but someone as disorganized and fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants as I am, these checklists have helped our family immensely.  The kids are in the habit of checking them now, and we can add to them as we see fit.

I’d love to hear from you.  Do you have any brilliant ideas for getting homework done and keeping peace and harmony in the home?  I’d love to hear it.

Other posts in this series:

Raising Responsible Kids: Have A Plan

Raising Responsible Kids: Take Off the Bumpers {Consequences}

Raising Responsible Kids: Communication

Raising Responsible Kids: Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Raising Responsible Kids: Allowance

Raising Responsible Kids: Chores

Raising Responsible Kids: Choices

Disclaimer: I am by NO MEANS a parenting expert of any sort.  I am just sharing some things I’m learning as I navigate the muddy waters of motherhood.  I figure, if they work for me, they may work for someone else.  Good luck!

Disclosure: All links to books are Amazon affiliate links.

Join The Conversation

31 Responses

  1. This sounds really wonderful, and it’s clearly helped to organize your family’s day. I would say that you have one massive advantage over most of your readers: you stay at home and have time to devote to these techniques, and your husband is able to support your family really well on one paycheck. It would be interesting to take some of these scenarios and insert them into the life of a family where the mom has to be at work at 7:30 AM, and the kids leave on their own b/c the dad works the night shift and sleeps all day, etc. I get to stay at home this year, but my husband isn’t making enough to pay our basic bills, much less give any kind of allowance or pay any child to do any chore. How would you work the bus/pay mom rule, if the children had no money for you to charge them? How do these rules work to manage children who are home alone for long stretches?

    1. Yep, staying home is nice, but the books I’ve read give scenarios for the working mom who has to leave the house at 7:30 AM too. They just don’t apply as practically to my life, so I’m sharing the way I work it. The same principles apply, though. You have to connect a consequence to the situation. That consequence varies family to family, based on the kids’ personalities and the family situation.

      I want to point out, too, that allowance isn’t tied to chores. Everything I’ve read is adamant about that point. So those are two different consequences we use, but they aren’t related to one another. If your family doesn’t do allowances, having kids do extra chores is a great way to motivate them to do what you want them to do and it helps mom get stuff done around the house too. Win-win.

      I was having lunch with Kellyn from Fritz Facts, and she told me one of her favorites punishments is making the kids pick dandelions. I’m definitely tucking that one away for future reference. Sometimes you have to get creative.

      Rosemond was a child of divorce and had a single mom during his formative years, and he gives lots of examples from his own childhood. Basically he makes the point that his mom didn’t micromanage and didn’t entertain him. The same principles can apply to many different situations.

  2. I have a friend that made flip cards for her kids and she hung them in the bathroom from little cup hooks. The cards had pictures of what they needed to do, like brush your teeth, comb your hair, etc, and when the activity was completed they flipped the card over to show it was done. She just printed out pictures from online, glued them to construction paper and laminated them. I thought it was really clever and the bonus was that it looked super cute. I’ve been meaning to do this with Baby Girl, but I haven’t yet. I love that it takes the constant reminders (nagging) out of the equation.

    1. Oooooh, that’s smart. And that is similar to some of the ideas I’ve read, for dealing with younger kids who can’t read.

  3. This is great, Jo-Lynne! We used checklists when our girls were younger and they were so helpful. Some of my kids needed lists more than others–it depends on their personality. But a couple of my girls absolutely thrived on checking things off the list. Today the checklist has become a threat around here: “Do I need to make a list for you??” 🙂

    1. So did you actually leave a place for them to check off what they had done? Right now we just have the list of things to do, but I’m wondering if it would be better if they actually had to check off each responsibility when it’s done. So far I wouldn’t say we really NEED that, except that I guess we get lax sometimes, especially with the Evening one. It might make us a little more conscientious about them (and easier for my husband and me to check them too.)

  4. I appreciate all the thought you’ve put into making things run smoothly at your house. I have found that having routines keeps both my children and I on task. I’m always looking for ways to improve what we currently do, so am truly enjoying this series!

  5. Great tips. It’s taken me years to get things so they’re good in the morning before school. I have to have everyone doing things earlier than I think they should, then I don’t get mad and yell. It’s not too early but gives us enough of a bugger so the slow-pokes feel on their schedule and I feel ok with mine.

  6. My 4 year old will attend kindergarten in the fall. He got a goodie bag full of little things they will work on and the method they will use to learn. He got a little chalk board that is for “writing without tears”. I write the letter, and he erases it with a tiny sponge. He is learning and having fun!

    I do like the do not nag part and the pay me to take you to school.. nagging only gets me more upset and no kiddo wants to give up their money!

  7. I think you have all the right things going on….I find that it works for me as well after I learned what I was doing wrong through a book. I picked up a book because I had too many guilt-ridden mornings from nagging and yelling, then sending them out the door. It was making me feel like crap. I made them get up 20 mins earlier which was so helpful. Rushing was actually our main problem in the past. Routines always work. Also, I give choices, not demands as well. Plain and simple, it just works all the way around. Now if I can be on top of what I am supposed to be doing and stick to it!!! I am now the biggest culprit! Well, not entirely…..

    1. Yes, getting them up earlier has helped A LOT. I have one who is always running down the street after the bus, though, lol.

  8. My daughter is almost 11 and she is old enough for me to drop the “if you don’t clean your bathroom by 5 today you aren’t getting your allowance” reminders. Thanks for giving me the motivation to drop the reminders! I’ll let you know how it goes.

    1. The Love & Logic book talks a lot about how we say things to them. It almost goes overboard, in that I sometimes feel that I am thinking way too hard, lol. But I do like how he has you say things like, “You are welcome to ______ once you have ______.” And “Feel free to _____ once you have _____.” I like that you are giving them a heads up without really nagging. Yes, it’s semantics, but still. It makes for a more pleasant household.

  9. We don’t have a physical checklist, but your routines sound similar to ours (only my kids leave the house at 7:30 and can’t ride the bus b/c we live too close to school). I also make the kids do homework as soon as we get home. I have to, otherwise we might forget about it, and we’re out of the house several evenings now for sports. Giving the kids independence/responsibility is so freeing as a parent (at least when it comes to these kinds of things) and makes the days so much nicer.

    1. Yeah, I rebelled against that for the LONGEST time. I hate to make the kids get down to work when they get in the house. But it really is the only way to get it done. We are SUCH procrastinators around here. And it’s not like they can’t relax. They just can’t play till it’s done. I do chat with them and get them snacks and stuff.

  10. My oldest girl has autism. Things run smoother in her world with lists and a visual schedule. I love the idea of having a check list for each child for different times of day and the alternative ideas instead of nagging. I find that I don’t like listening to myself nag. 🙁 So finding an alternatives is good. I look forward to trying some of your ideas and see how they work for our family. Keep’em coming!

  11. I love the idea of an afternoon and evening check list. My son (who’s in Kindergarten) has one that he’s used all year (although we teaked it after reading some of your earlier posts and he has to have everything done before breakfast – he’s a slllllooooowwww eater!). Since he wasn’t a super strong reader I took pictures of what he needed to do every morning: get dressed (picture of some of his clothes), brush teeth (picture of his toothbrush), eat breakfast and get his backpack ready. I put the pictures on a word doc, printed it and laminated it.

  12. This is going to be SO HELPFUL for us next year when Bean starts kindergarten! I love the checklist concept – and do you remember the whole-family schedule/flow-charts that Supernanny used to make for the families she coached? I see these individual lists working well with something like that, as well, and honestly I think we could use both at my house because I’m as guilty of dawdling and getting distracted from the stuff that NEEDS to be done as the kids are (possibly more, but I’m not admitting that publicly). Also, I’m old and I tend to forget things. A lot. You’ve got me thinkin’, now! Thanks!

  13. Jo Lynne, you should know that I’m telling many of my mom friends about your series and re-posting it on FB. I think that these are great practical skills and tips for family life. Many of us don’t take the time to read parenting books so it’s good to hear what’s working in another mom’s life. Thank you for being willing to share.

  14. I love these ideas. I’ve been reading the series and am very excited to begin implementing some of these techniques into our daily life. I am the mother of 3 daughters ages 7, 5, and 3 so I can use all the help I can get with getting everyone organized. I have one big question though on the subject of allowances. We have yet to really set an allowance for our girls and I know it is really time for us to get going I’m just not sure how to get started. I’ve heard it’s best not to give allowances based on chores but I’m not sure what you give them for instead. Do the kids earn money just because time passes? Or are there other guidelines they must follow to “earn” their allowance? I would love to hear what you suggest.

  15. Although we never made the actual list – our house is quite similar, although I like the idea of the list as an alternative to me reminding/nagging!

    Mornings – must be dressed before breakfast. After breakfast finish packing their lunch boxes (I make their sandwiches), then it is teeth, toilet, shoes, hair and bags (and piano/flute) before play/tv.

    After school – quick snack then homework before play/tv.

    Bedtime – rooms tidy, school bags ready for tomorrow, teeth, reading and lights out.

    If these are not done there are CONSEQUENCES! (no tv, computer, or additional chores)

  16. We have rules for homework, but Boo’s is so sporadic and isn’t due for a week afterwards.

    My biggest thing is that I have a plan at the beginning of the year, but by this time of year I am spacing out on it forgetting that things need to be done at all. It is awful of me and something that I have to work at constantly.

  17. I like that you give “friendly reminders.” I certainly understand the premise behind the “don’t give reminders” argument, but I also believe in extending grace. As you mentioned, even WE need reminders as adults sometimes…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Close this search box.