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.