“Alright, That’s It! The House Is a Mess!” | Helping Kids Accept Consequences

Messy House.jpg

After I burst into tears of frustration about the new levels of mess that were accumulating on every surface of our house, and as I was bemoaning the reminders to clean up that are going unheeded by our children, my husband took action.

(I don’t cry often—so when I do, I get results!)

My husband sat down, in full papa-bear mode, and wrote out a list of fines the kids would receive for failing to pick up items on the floor. We threw in failure-to-make-your-bed as an additional infraction.

I was relieved he was taking up the gauntlet! Most of the follow-through with kids falls on my shoulders. So, when dad speaks, the kids’ eyes get wide and they take notice.

I recently read The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers by Gary Chapman. One thing that really stood out to me was that rules should be clearly communicated to kids, especially as they get older. Kids should not be blindsided. They should know that a rule has been violated and know in advance what the consequences are. They should also have some input when it comes to the formulation of the rules and the consequences.

“You will still continue to parent the teen,” says Chapman, “but you also know she is getting older and will start becoming more independent and wanting to make her own choices. This is good and healthy because soon she will be an adult and will make all her own choices.”

Chapman suggests that it is a good idea to have a family meeting to discuss rules and consequences and get a teenager’s input about what is appropriate and fair. “Tell her you want her thoughts and feelings.”

When a teenager’s thoughts and feelings are taken into consideration, you might be surprised that they feel a consequence should be stricter than a parent does. A teenager is also much more willing to receive a rule and a consequence that she herself has been a part of deciding to impose.

You will avoid future arguments about things being “unfair” if she decides with you ahead of time that a certain consequence is in fact equitable.

After discussing the rules with the kids and getting their input on whether the consequences were fair or not, we posted the list of fines on our refrigerator for all to plainly see.

We decided that most of the items left on the floor would incur a 10-cent fine, which doubles every day. On the fourth day, there is a one-week suspension. Some items, including the unmade bed, incur a 25-cent fine every day that also doubles and will ultimately result in suspension as well. Inspections occur every day at 9:00 AM.

The first week we decided to implement fake fines so the kids would see how much money they would have been charged, rather than charging them real money. We thought it was fair to give them a week to get their act together before imposing real fines.

“Our goal is not to crush you,” my husband told our kids. “Our goal is to help you develop good habits of organization and to develop work ethic.”

Like Chapman said, we found that having a family meeting to discuss the rules and consequences in advance, and getting the kids’ input, resulted in children who understand the logic behind the rules, feel included and respected, and are happy to go along with the new agenda. We had zero complaints from the kids. (I was in shock.)

Amy Koons picture.jpg

Sweet play time, and a mess to clean up afterwards.

The floor has been mostly picked up for about three days now and I want to pinch myself with elation. It feels almost too good to be true.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed!


Photo Credit: First image courtesy of iStock. Following image courtesy of author.

19 thoughts on ““Alright, That’s It! The House Is a Mess!” | Helping Kids Accept Consequences

  1. 5 kids here. Keeping track of how many days each child has left something out and how much their individual fines are for their individual items would finally drive me over the edge. No, thanks. We have enough crazy over here already.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tonya, I think a year ago I would have felt the same way and been overwhelmed by the idea of keeping track of fines. We have four kids and I would have wondered how it could be done. Now that our youngest is five years old, I am not constantly in survival mode anymore and the chaos that was resulting from lack of discipline and our floors being constantly covered with toys and clothing was making me go insane. We have implemented fines now for over a month and the floors have been picked up and tidy for that entire time (beds have also been made every day for the whole time, too). It is well-worth the effort it takes me every day at 9 AM to walk around the house and noticed if there are things out of place. The five minutes it takes every day has become an automated habit and I don’t think about doing it anymore. I just do it. My kids have also developed healthy habits of being tidy and making their beds. Hopefully this will translate into them being better room-mates and better spouses and parents someday. In the meantime, I’m enjoying have a more calm, uncluttered, peaceful house! Yay!! But, seriously, I do understand that it might be overwhelming to implement a consistent system. Someday you will hopefully get there!


      • So for your kids to be able to pay fines, I suppose they must receive some for of allowance then? Do you deduct the fines before allowance disbursement or have them pay you the money back?


      • LP, we have given our kids an allowance for several years and have found it is a great way to teach them how to manage money, that money is limited, and to give them the ability to buy gifts, treats for themselves and to make restitution when they have damaged or broken something. We give the kids one quarter for every year old they are, per week. So my five year old son gets $1.25 per week and my 12-year-old gets $3 per week. They have a list of chores they are expected to do each week and when they don’t do them, that’s when the fines come in. It is easier for me to walk around the house every morning and see what has NOT been done than to see that something HAS been done. I’m sure you could structure it any way that is convenient to you. I know some people say that you should always tie allowance to chores to teach kids that work equals money (Dave Ramsey believes this). I have read other sources where, as long as you attach “spending responsibility” you can still teach money management. Your kids should know what they are responsible to pay for and what the parent will pay for. Then, kids can just do chores because they are a part of the family and not necessarily to get their allowance. It think either way can work. We also give our kids opportunities to do extra chores to make more money if they want to take initiative to do that. In fact, as I type, my 10-year-old is cleaning a shower to earn some extra money because she has a specific savings goal. I want to encourage her initiative and there are always lots of chores to be done!


      • LP, I forgot to answer whether we deduct fines before allowance. We sit down some time over the weekend to reconcile accounts. I give them their allowance and then tell them what they owe me and they pay. At any time, they can do extra chores to earn back what they have lost by fines. I don’t want to discourage them. They always have an opportunity to earn some more money (vacuuming out the van, for instance). There are always many chores to be done around here.


  2. I’m loving the idea of charging fines, but how did you manage to keep track of who left what out? We have four kids too (9 years down to 12 months), and I can just hear the older two kids claiming the younger siblings are to blame. And honestly, they really are, quite often!


    • Laura, we thought of this too. Basically, we were so tired of random socks and also trash being left in rooms that if those were left out, everyone gets fined. We want everyone to be in the habit of picking up socks and trash if they see them out. So far (for more than a month since we have implemented fines) we have only had to fine kids for trash maybe three times and only once for socks. If no one claims a toy, then I put it in the donation box. If it’s not important to kids to claim that they left a toy out, then it’s not important enough to keep in our home to clutter up our space. 🙂 When larger messes are gotten out in our common areas, I usually know which kids are the ones who have done that because I have seen them. Just last night my five year old son got out a huge block mess but later our eight year old daughter played with it too. Before bed last night my husband told my daughter that she is responsible to pick up half of that and she must do it before 9 AM. She decided to go ahead and do it quickly last night before bed. My son then picked the rest of it up this morning. We are not trying to be super strict or legalistic but everyone in our house has agreed that they have enjoyed having rooms that have been picked up and beds that are made every day. Your kids are still mostly on the young side. Maybe you can start small but just getting them to make their beds and clear their plates, for instance. Over time, you can work on other stuff.


  3. “They should also have some input when it comes to the formulation of the rules and the consequences.”

    I am wondering where in real life (ie. outside the home) will a child, teen, or adult have the opportunity to choose their own consequences for rule-breaking. Sometimes I wonder if kids these days are not given more input than they should have, giving them an over-inflated sense of their own importance. Please do not misunderstand — I *love* children/teens and love teaching them and spending time with them, and they have *so* many amazing ideas and thoughts. I have 4 of my own, 3 of whom have graduated (homeschooled them all the way) and gone on to college. My educational background is Child Development, and I am all about *valuing* children. But they have parents for a reason. I can definitely see Tonya’s point … keeping track of it all would overwhelm me. I did try similar things though, when my kids were young, and now that I have one child who hasn’t yet graduated, I do charge a monetary fine for dishes left at the computer. But I did not ask for their opinions first. The cops won’t ask their opinions, their bosses will not ask their opinions, etc. That said, I do ask their opinions on other topics as they come up, and value their thinking …

    I just asked my 22 year old daughter what her thoughts are. 😉 She says children ought to be respected, and that respect goes both ways. But the Bible says for children to obey their parents. I am in full agreement with that!


    • I definitely agree that parents are the authority and children should obey their parents. The bible also says that parents should not provoke their children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. I think that parents can maintain their authority and be the ultimate rule-makers while, at the same time, taking into consideration their children’s feelings about rules. We parents typically hold all the cards. We should not frustrate our children. When they are adults they have the autonomy to make a change–switch jobs, or living situations, etc. Right now they don’t have that autonomy. You asked about when in real life they will be asked to give their input. Many work forces are collaborative and superiors ask input from inferiors. I just finished reading a memoir by the founder of Zappos shoes and he had all the employees give input on what the culture of the company should be. He has unheard of loyalty and trust from his employees because he did that. Yes, parents are the authority and children should obey. Period. Maybe they would be happier to obey and go along with the rules if they know they are fully heard and sympathized with by the parents. We should be servant-leaders. That’s the example Christ gave us. Getting input on the rules before we decided on the rules has bred good results and happy relationships in our family.


      • “You asked about when in real life they will be asked to give their input.”

        No, I asked when in real life they would get to choose their own consequences for rule-breaking. There are many times and ways that we as people in society get to give our input, including the workplace. And there are many times and ways in which children might also give their input. I was referring specifically to rules and consequences.

        I also have no argument with servant leadership. Again, that’s a whole nuther story. 😉 Servant leadership does not mean everyone gets to have a say in what the rules are or what the consequences are. It does mean that we walk in humility and that we not consider ourselves above others. Jesus Himself demonstrated servant leadership. But He also makes whatever rules there are, and sets the consequences. He doesn’t ask for our opinions about it, nor does He ask us to help decide those things. And that was my point.


      • Sorry Sheri, I was reading fast and replying to several comments so I understand now what you are saying. In a democratic society we adults do have the ability to influence our laws and lawmakers, and therefore the rules and consequences.


  4. Amy,
    Thank you for your article! I’m just wondering, where do the kids get the money to pay the fines? Did they already have a weekly allowance? If so, how much? I tried a dime jar once for naughty behavior, but I had to supply the dimes, so it didn’t last very long. My 4 kids range from 3 to 11 years old, and I’ve never had much extra to be able to pay them an allowance. I also feel that they shouldn’t expect to be paid for helping in the house. We also have the “I didn’t get that out”, blaming each other problem. Who is responsible when 2 or more kids were playing together with the same toys?
    Do you have any suggestions to overcome these things?
    Your suggestions are very much appreciated. I need a little more cleanliness and a little less nagging in my home.


    • Hi Patricia, at first I was nervous about giving the kids allowance because I wondered if with four kids it would be a lot of money to hand over when we could use it on a much-needed meal out, etc. I changed my mind when I read that, statistically, kids who get allowance and kids who don’t access the same amount of cash from their parents. Kids who get allowance have to save up to do the things they want to do (or just don’t do them). Kids who don’t get allowance hit up mom or dad for cash as they are walking out the door to go to an event and dad will often hand over $20. It has been so wonderful over the years to see our kids develop a sense of the value of money and to learn stewardship and responsible saving. When our family goes out for fun, we will treat our kids. Otherwise, they are expected to save and pay for their own treats and stuff they want to buy. Our kids virtually never ask me to buy stuff for them. They know they are responsible to do that. We give our kids one quarter for every year old they are, per week. So our five year old gets $1.25 a week (and some weeks spends his money on making restitution for stuff he breaks!) and our 12 year old gets $3 per week.

      I replied to someone above about different ideas for tying allowance to chores. We expect our kids to do chores because they are a part of the family. But if they don’t do the jobs we expect, I charge fines. It is easier for me to keep track of what I see they did NOT do, then what they did do. Whether you decide to tie allowance to chores or not, kids should always know what their “spending responsibilities” are–what you will pay for and what they need to pay for. Technically, an allowance doesn’t give kids extra money. Decide what your kids should pay for that you are already paying for and then give it to them so they can learn to manage money. You won’t regret it!

      Earlier I also replied about when kids deny that they are responsible for leaving something on the floor. Basically, if it’s trash or socks, everyone get fined. Everyone should pick up trash and random socks if they see them on the floor. After all, I was the one doing this all the time and going crazy. They can all lend a hand and help with this! If they were playing together with toys, they can pick up half of the mess to avoid a fine. If I tell someone to pick up something and they don’t, that is also a fine. Sometimes a kid will say it’s not fair they are asked to pick something up. I tell them, “We are a family and we help each other. I pick up stuff I didn’t get out and you must do that sometimes too.” Obviously, older kids will end up picking up more stuff, just because they younger kids can’t. That’s called being part of a family. We are family. We love each other. But usually when there’s a big mess in a common area, I know who did it. I give my five year old warnings and I help him more than I do my 12 and 10 year olds. 🙂


  5. This sounds like a great idea, and I’ve been thinking about implementing a fine system like this, but am unsure how to do it with a houseful of littles without long discussions about who left out what. How do you handle that?

    I’ve thought about making it just a whole-family thing where fines—or earned money for keeping things nice—come in or out of one fund that is used for special family activities. But I’m not sure if that would be as motivating for individual kids. Does anyone have input on this?


    • Kristin, it sounds like my kids are older than yours. I think if they are all little it’s hard to know who left out what, you might just need to have everyone pitch in and clean up at different times throughout the day. I replied to someone else above about what to do if everyone denies that they left something out, or if kids make joint-messes. Basically, we were super frustrated with socks and trash. If those are on the floor and someone sees them, everyone is expected to pick up those things. If socks or trash are on the floor at 9 AM everyone gets fined. If no one claims a toy, it goes to the donation box.

      As far as your second question, I know my own kids are super motivated to save their own money and work toward financial goals. It might also frustrate kids if one kid is getting lots of fines and the whole family is suffering and missing out on a fun activity because of that one kid.


  6. OK, but where do your kids get the money to pay the fines? How do you implement this with a 2-year old or a 4-year old who doesn’t even really understand the concept of money, much less have a job to earn the money to pay household fines?


    • Robert, I have replied above about allowance. We didn’t start allowance until our oldest child was six. We have started it with younger kids at age four because they saw their older sibling(s) get money and were more interested. Two books I have read are “Raising Money Smart Kids” by Bodnar and “Smart Money Smart Kids” by Ramsey and Cruze. They each have a little different take on allowance and whether it should be tied to chores or not. Right now would be a good time for you to read about it so you are prepared for the future. But I agree that it’s jumping the gun to impose fines on a four and two year old. What I have done when my kids are super-little is to have a few times every day when we all worked together to “tidy up the nursery” and would sing a fun song together while picking up. When I wrote this blog article, it was more addressing a frustration my husband and I had at our kids being okay with living with chaotic messes and being sloppy. We wanted to encourage better habits and have more peace in our house. So, for older kids the fines have worked great.


    • That is a great question. My older kids have learned the value of money after getting allowance for years and working towards savings goals. So monetary fines has worked so well for us. One thing we have done in the past is that they are expected to pick up their rooms before they go out to play with neighbor kids on the weekend. That generally worked well for us, as long as we made sure to go check the rooms ahead of time. I like the idea of giving a positive reward. Maybe the kids can invite a friend for pizza and a movie if they have kept their rooms picked up for a month? We were at the point where we needed a consistent, daily method to help our kids. Keeping it daily has made it better for me to stay consistent.


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