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Job Cards: An Effective Consequence When Kids Are Too Old for Time-Outs

Time-out is a brilliant tool for responding to negative behavior in toddlers and younger children. But how do you constructively discipline your child when he or she has outgrown the time-out method?

Boys Town parenting expert Luis F. Morales Knight, Ph.D., offers a creative and effective way to address the issue.

Core Concept
"Job card grounding" is a form of time-out that can be used with children ages 7 and older. It requires children to lose access to all their privileges until they complete a household job. The job, which lasts from 10 to 20 minutes, is written on "job card" that is given to children when they break the rules or use other inappropriate behavior.

How to Do It
Create a set of job cards by writing down a step-by-step description of a household job (one job per card). When your child breaks a house rule, hand him or her one job card and say, "Because you (state the rule violation), you have earned a job card. Come back and check in with me when the job is done."

Do not nag or remind your child to do the job, and don’t let him or her have access to any privileges or fun activities (TV, computer, friends, phone, music) until the job is completed. When your child checks in with you, go to the job location and make sure all the steps have been done correctly. If the steps were not done correctly or were not completed, tell your child what still needs to be done and leave the area.

Traps to Avoid

  • Don’t get sucked into a power struggle. If your child starts to argue, ignore him or her (or say that arguing will earn another job card). Children will use arguing as a way to temporarily escape the demands of the job, so don’t become a participant. Similarly, resist the urge to nag or remind your child to complete the job.
  • Don’t forget that you decide when the job is done. If the job is not completed as specified on the card, your child must do it correctly before earning access to any privileges. Also, don’t get involved in arguments over how to interpret the steps on the card. You are the only person whose interpretation matters. (If your child completes all the steps on the card and you realize there should be more steps, let it go this time and rewrite the card for next time.)

Pro Tips

  • Your child MUST be able to complete the jobs. Consider your child’s age, strength, height and developmental level when you are writing job cards.
  • Use the "2 for 1 equals 1" approach. If your child argues about doing the job on the card, consider giving TWO job cards for each rule violation; then say, "If you do the first one right now without arguing, you won’t have to do the second one." (Try not to stack up too many jobs when this happens; three might be enough.)
  • Provide a wide variety of jobs. Use your imagination and your knowledge of your home, your family’s needs and your children’s abilities to create 15 to 20 different job cards. Periodically add new jobs and remove unnecessary or less-useful jobs.
  • "Jobs" should be separate from "chores." Many children complete daily or weekly chores as part of helping the household run smoothly. Job cards should be separate from any system of chores you may have for your children. Jobs should involve "extra work" that needs to be done around the house as a consequence for negative behavior.
  • Make sure your children are motivated to regain access to their privileges. If your child takes an excessively long time to complete a job card, it might mean he or she is not that interested in the privileges you’re providing. If job card grounding doesn’t seem to be working, review your child’s level of interest in typical privileges and fun activities.

Everyday Jobs that Can Go on Job Cards

  • Vacuum one or more rooms/hallways/stairs
  • Sweep floor in one or more rooms
  • Mop floor in one or more rooms
  • Gather trash from various rooms and take it out
  • Sweep and/or organize the garage
  • Dust furniture in one or more rooms
  • Dust all ceiling fans
  • Wipe off the washer and dryer (and/or refrigerator, stove, microwave, etc.)
  • Empty and wipe out kitchen drawers
  • Vacuum the furniture
  • Put away misplaced items and/or straighten up one or more rooms
  • Lint brush furniture in one or more rooms
  • Wipe baseboards in one or more rooms
  • Wipe down walls, doors, doorknobs, light switches, etc.
  • Water plants
  • Organize drawers, cupboards, closets, etc.
  • Cook dinner (leave instructions)
  • Make lunches other family members can take to work and school
  • Pick up milk, bread, etc. from the store
  • Gather dirty laundry/towels and start a load of laundry
  • Dry/fold/put away laundry
  • Clean the computer keyboard and screen
  • Clean the bathroom sink, mirror and toilet
  • Shake out area rugs
  • Clean windows in one or more rooms
  • Clean refrigerator shelves and door — inside and out
  • Remove old food from the refrigerator
  • Clean the toaster (unplug it and dump the crumbs)
  • Iron clothes
  • Wash the outside of the car
  • Clean the inside of the car
  • Scrub out the outside trash cans (or the inside ones)
  • Clean the cat litter box
  • Pick up doggie bombs in the yard
  • Clean aquariums, pet cages, etc.

Spring/Summer Jobs

  • Mow the lawn
  • Trim the lawn
  • Trim the bushes
  • Weed the garden
  • Water the yard
  • Clean outdoor furniture
  • Get outdoor items out of storage and ready for use
  • Provide pool care, vacuum the pool

Fall Jobs

  • Rake and bag leaves
  • Clean out the garden
  • Clean outdoor items and store them for winter
  • Clean the fireplace
  • Clean heating grates

Winter Jobs

  • Shovel snow
  • Clean snow off of the car
  • Wash the car to remove salt
  • Help put up/take down Christmas lights

Click here for some ​downloadable Job Cards you can try with your children. For more information from Boys Town parenting experts — including access to our FREE behavior track email series — visit the Parenting section of the Boys Town website.

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