The Amazing Checklist

The world of responsibility is a “hot topic” at my house right now.  Mornings had been full of frustrated requests for my son to keep moving through his routine to get ready to leave the house each day.  Dr. Dobson gave a great example of a checklist routine and hearing how great it had worked for his daughter Danae, I decided to try one of my own with my son.  We had ups and downs at first but we’ve finally mastered the “check list” as we refer to it here. 
In the beginning…
Each day my son had a checklist to go through.  Nothing too harsh and it hadn’t even begun to include chores yet (that is coming shortly to his dismay) but it went something like this… Get up when the alarm clock goes off…eat breakfast…take vitamins…wash face…brush teeth…put on clothes…brush hair…get school stuff together…put on shoes and socks…wait on the couch to leave.  At night it went like this… wash face & hands, use the restroom, brush teeth, put on pajamas, get into bed at the time MOM says.  What is said penalty for missing just one check on the checklist?  Go to bed 30 minutes early the next time it’s bedtime.  He did the math and thought it was too harsh that he could essentially go to bed many hours early but he understood why it was important to follow the checklist system.  I explained how the mornings had been making us both feel and that to ensure we have a positive start to our day, this checklist was necessary.  He understood his part and appeared excited.  Seems like a dream right? Have it all done and have him waiting there when I come down the stairs all ready for my day.  How effortless!  First day=AMAZING!  Reality quickly sank in on day #2 where he did the natural “Let’s see what will happen if I miss a check or two or most”.  It was a horrendous morning one day last week.  He tested every step of the way of how I would react to him sitting around or playing with his toys or just talking and talking and talking while I am frustrated at him not moving it along.  Being completely transparent, my answer in frustration was to threaten the loss of all of his toys if I saw him play with any others while he was to be doing his checklist.  Kind of extreme, but in frustration it made sense to say at the time.  He proceeded to grab a toy and play.
We finally get into the car and I am near tears.  I find myself talking to him about how disappointed I am in him that he couldn’t get his act together and quite honestly I talked his ear off the entire 5-minute car ride to his school.  I was late to work. I felt exhausted… and my day hadn’t even begun.  Good parenting? I would say not.  Exhausted parenting, hurried parenting and definitely my reactions were not well thought out or planned.  It is very important to have a thought out plan when our expectations are challenged.  I had missed that step in this entire process.
I get to work and the day just got worse and worse. Stress continued, my vehicle was in small accident, late deadlines, frustrating workload...etc., but worst of all was my guilt for how angry I was at him that morning.  The last place I wanted to be was away from him.  I needed to talk to him and tell him how much I love him and to try to fix our situation.  The day just seemed to never end.  When it did…I went home.   This time, I had a plan.
I decided that although it was extreme, I did need to follow through on the toy promise since it was his consequence given for not making the right decision.  I purchased several plastic bins and had them waiting in the car when my son got in.  He was told that since he decided play with his toys after being warned they would go away, he made a decision that I now was forced to follow through on.  The consequence for choosing to continue playing with the toys was that the toys were now going away.  He could earn back a few toys at a time each day that he was on time with completing his checklist, without my reminders.  I made it a point to also apologize for my anger in an effort to teach him that anger isn’t the answer to frustration.  We had a nice hug of forgiveness and we hot tailed it home to begin restoring our routine. To my surprise there was not a fight.  He helped me dump toy after toy into the bins, which stack high behind his bed to await his obedience to earn back.  It has become great incentive for him to complete his list.  Why wasn't there a fight? I truly believe it is because he was given a clear boundary and he understood that he had a consequence for stepping out of it.  We moved his “sticker” list to a white board where he feels ownership over drawing a picture in each square he completes.  He is on top of each day that he gets to earn more toys back.  To put the cherry on top of the sundae, today he told me that he has been very happy every morning and that the checklist was a good idea!  Imagine that!  Thank you Dr. Dobson, and thank you God for the peace you have restored to our mornings! 
What stories do you have about getting your kids around in the mornings or before bed?


  1. I found that getting things together the night before was helpful for eliminating extra stress as well. Like picking out what clothes to wear, making a lunch, preparing the coffee maker, this help me to make more time for exercise or quiet-time before the kids woke up. Discipline for them and myself helped make a big difference.

  2. We have 2 grandkids that live with us. They each have a clipboard for their morning routine. 9 items: toilet, wash hands and face, make bed,get dressed, shoes on, eat breakfast, brush teeth, get lunch box, get backpack. I helped them write these items out and they drew a picture to illustrate each one. I put each paper in a protective plastic sleeve. Each morning they use a dry-erase marker to cross them off as they are completed. So far, this has worked to keep them on track. They remind each other about the checklists. Each day that they complete all the items, they get 5 points. Points are redeemable for dinner out wherever they want to go when they reach 25.
    Luckily, they like cheap food!

  3. When the girls were younger we used the checklist and it worked well. Now they are older (14 and 11) and the checklist has just become an integrated part of our lives. We no longer have a formal checklist, but the kids know what they need to get done and by when and it usually doesn't take more than a gentle nudge to get them back on track if they slip off a bit. I LOVE the checklist idea for younger kids. We couldn't have made it through without it!

    1. I'm really glad to know that it should evolve into a self sufficient activity when he's older! Thanks for the example Toben and for supporting us!