✔’s, Gems, and X’s / Our System for Our Kid’s Responsibilities & Behavior

Fair Warning: This is like a 10 minute read.
If you’ve got the time, I’ve got the verbage.
So grab a drink, sit back, & relax.

The Prelude

There are days when I feel like I have 50 things to get done that day. I always have lists going, of my agendas. I’m writing tasks down as I think of them, while trying to take care of others and check them off. Between running a family (I am the thinker & planner, as I suppose most mothers are), homeschooling the kids, running my photography business, and running the blog, my head spins sometimes.  Paid or not, every agenda is all ‘work to do’ in my head, albeit work that I enjoy, as overwhelmed as I can get on some days.

But there is no job on any given day, that is more important to me, or that I am more passionate about in my heart, than helping lead and encourage my children into being the best grown people they can be.   It’s #1, always. It comes before everything else in my book, including them learning any academics.  By a long shotThe formation of their character, to me, is the most critical aspect of my job as a parent.

In the end, I think we all have the same goals for our children, no matter where the source of our inspiration to ‘get this parenting thing right’ comes from.  Right? If we live consciously, we will do our best most days, and still make mistakes along the way! But it’s in trying to do our best, and loving our children so much that we want to give them our best, that drives us.  Even if we all have different ways of what that means, or how to do it on a day to day basis.

From my own personal viewpoint:  the foundation of character begins with God, and what He expects of me as a parent, raising these children He has blessed us with.  One of those things, is to try and teach my children, what He expects of us all, as people. And how to use His teachings to guide us all.  It’s one I take extremely seriously, and one I never stop thinking about. I’m not perfect at it by any means, but I never give up. My mind never stops….“What is working? What isn’t? What needs to change? How can they best learn from this situation today?  What is the message they may be getting? Are they on the right path, for their age?” And the questions keep coming.  They have since the day I became a mother.  I’m sure so many of you are familiar with this internal interrogation.

Two years ago this month,  in June 2009, I happened to blog about “A 6 Star Date” that I went on with my son.  Some of you who have been following us for years, may remember it.  Others may want to read that old post later, here.   Generally, it was a system I had made up and was using at the time, to encourage and address our kid’s behavior choices.  We used it for the longest time, and still do for the most part.   The concept of the system, and the general basics, have remained the same.  If anything, it has expanded to cover more area, especially as the kids are older now. It has been pretty effective for our kids, and our family as a whole.   I’ve been meaning to share it on the blog here for some time, with the thought that any of you may want to try implementing something similar, or any part of it, tweaking it in ways you see fit, to work for your family.

*As a reference point for anyone not very familiar with our family, we have 4 children.  They all have a birthday coming right up. Our oldest daughter Alexis, a.k.a {A} will be 14 years old, and then we have triplets who will be 9 years old at the end of August. They are in birth order, son-daughter-son;  JackMichael a.k.a {JM or J}, Olivia a.k.a. {O}, and Shane a.k.a. {S}.

Please understand that this post & system I am sharing, ultimately was fostered by our own personal opinions, convictions,  and style of parenting. We are a practicing Catholic family, but it is completely tweakable for your own beliefs, I am sure. The post as a whole may not be 100% agreeable with everyone, but is offered to those interested in using it possibly as a practice of their own, in part or whole, or as a spring board for their own ideas.  It reflects our faith, and our convictions.  Please respect it’s entirety as such, and take from it what works for you, as you please.

The Responsibility and Behavior System:

(This system was not actually created all at once.  It was simply 3 separate things I had been doing to guide my children, when one day, I realize how collectively, it was a pretty good overall system. )

1) The Check Chart

I want to give them skills to learn how to be responsible for themselves.

We use this responsibilities chart we made up, using vinyl cut letters & lines.  It lists our youngest one’s own personal responsibilities for each day of the week.  They check things off as they do them, every day.  This chart is in the kitchen, right beside the doorway between kitchen and the main living area, where we all pass through 100 times a day. It’s down low, right where the littles can’t miss it walking by. (It’s near the food.   ; )   By referring to the chart, there is no excuse for ‘forgetting’, and I can see at a glance, who has gotten what done. In the big picture, it saves me from talking as much, and asking each & every one of them “Did you brush your teeth yet””…”Did you wash your hands before dinner?”….”Did you…..”(this or that), driving myself and everyone else crazy.

These responsibilities basically consist of the things they are expected to do, to care for themselves, and their own belongings. This includes any messes of their own they make in any room of the house, out in the yard, or anywhere else.  Cleaning up after ourselves is an expectation of person responsibility and a family rule. But it is also a responsibility in and of itself, to keep their chart’s check marks updated, which works out nicely.  What if someone is repeatedly neglecting their responsibility chart? We’ll get to that shortly.

I should note that, we don’t personally ‘assign regular chores’ to the kids, although we don’t have a negative opinion in any way, of those families who do. But we are teaching them that it takes everyone to be a team, and loving family member to work well as a unit.  Because we love each other, and wish to live in harmony & happiness. With that said, they ultimately help out a lot around here without asking them to, much, through this system, as you’ll soon realize.


As you probably noticed, they also each have their own kid-color-coded marker, so we know whose checks are whose.  Our oldest is old enough not to need to be reminded of these responsibilities, which gives me great hope.

2) The Gems

I want them to feel appreciated, for their efforts, in being the best person God created them to be.

On top of our microwave in our kitchen, are 4 glass globe jars.   They are also kid-color-coded.  They are marked with each kid’s initial, have a pretty ribbon to match, and hold gems for their random efforts that we have appreciated, in our family.   To be clear, this is not a reward system.  I am not personally crazy about reward systems for the simple fact that, children, and all of us in general, should be expected to choose right, between right and wrong.  To choose to help others when we can. It’s what God expects of us, what shares and spreads love from within ourselves, to others, and what falls in line with our morals we are to live by.  In my opinion, choosing right, should not be bribed for, or lured with, rewards. Because then the incentive is not genuine, but ultimately selfish.  Often times, good things (I like to call natural consequences) happen to come of choosing right, anyway. But we should be expected to choose right, without needing to be rewarded for it, or looking to be.


With that said, gems may (or may not…) be given to any of the kids, when they are caught choosing right. It may be for doing a cleaning chore in the house that they saw needed to be done, such as sweeping the floor, straightening all of the shoes in the sun room, or picking up a mess someone else left after getting creative, before Mama found it. ; )  It may be because I overheard them put another before themselves, whether it be offering for someone else go first, or offering to share something. It may be for saying something kind to someone, doing a random act of kindness, or acting compassionately towards another.  These things apply whether we are at home together as a family, on a field trip, out on an outing with friends, or anywhere, with anyone, at all. Maybe they were the first to jump up when we called out through the house, “Dinner is ready! Can someone set the table please?” Being helpful, or loving, or thoughtful, or simply choosing right, when choosing wrong would have seemed easier in the immediate moment.  All of these things may get them a gem, which in all honesty, they do not (and cannot) expect. They know that is certainly true by now.

Because the rules have always been:

They cannot ever ask for a gem.

They cannot mention or remind me of gems, in relation to an action they took in any way.

They cannot even point out something they did, to be sure I know it. ; )

I in turn, do not always give them a gem, when I notice something. There are many, many times I don’t.  Simply because…..we all do and will do good, and choose right in life, and no one will appreciate it. It happens!  We can feel good in our hearts, knowing we pleased God, or held strong and chose right.  But there are times that is all we get out of it.  And it should be enough.

So this has really laid a foundation, for no expectations, in exchange for good choices.

I keep all of the gems, in this box, on the tower of my computer.  I had bought net sacks filled with gems, in similar colored sets that match our color-coded kids, at Michael’s Arts & Crafts.   More often than not, they have no idea why I am calling them to me, when I do.  They weren’t even aware I could hear what was going on, or saw what they did. But boy are they pleased when they realize why I did call them!  Their face lights up, from an expression of wonderment, as they come to me.  I have no set number of gems they get, for any given wonderful choice.  Sometimes, it’s just 1, sometimes it’s 2. Sometimes I tell them it is double the number I was going to give, for one reason or another. (And I’ll tell them why.)  But there is no denying how pleased they are, no matter how many they get.  They always seem perfectly happy with what they got, even when it is just 1! In putting these gems in their hand, I tell them why they should feel good about their choice, why I appreciate what they did, why I am sure God is pleased with them too, and I thank them and we have big hugs.(I’m big on communication with my kids. We talk a lot!)


They take their gems into the kitchen, and put them in their jar.   And in all honesty, it’s just getting gems, that helps them feel so appreciated.  You can see it on their face, and in their body language. Because they know they chose good, and that someone noticed, and appreciated that.  Don’t we all just love to know that, sometimes? It re-enforces all things good, without expecting a pay-off.

Now I’ll be the first to tell you, I am not always paying attention.  Weeks can go by, without anyone getting a single gem. Simply because I have a lot on my mind, or things have been crazy.  Good choices are expected regardless, although they aren’t always what is chosen. I’ll be getting to that shortly too. ; )  But there is rarely any mention about the gems.

Meanwhile, they sure look pretty, sitting there in the kitchen, don’t they?

Eventually, someone’s jar does fill up to the ribbon, and we do mark it with a special occasion.  Now don’t judge the children based on their gem levels, in the photo above, because they have all been emptied and re-started at different times.  There is no comparing at this point, but filling that jar is a personal accomplishments that I do like to mark with a special time.   No matter how hard they work at being a good person and choosing right, it’s a feat to fill a jar like that with little gems! It takes quite awhile.  Even for our most helpful ones.  So when the jar is filled up, I’ll give them a choice. We’ll give them a little money, to go shopping with me or Daddy where they can buy something for themselves they specially wanted, OR, they can go to breakfast or lunch with one of us.

Either way, it’s called a Gem Date. It’s special one-on-one time between us, and it always feels as special as it is.   I be sure to take time with each one of my kids every day, to talk with them and connect 1-on-1 with them.  With schooling them myself, I have lots of opportunities all day to do that. But there is always something a little extra-special-feeling about a Gem Date, for both us as the parent, and the child.  They almost feel magical, like all of those little appreciations came together and exploded.

Gems are like magic stones, after a long and tiresome span of time of giving, and giving, with no expectations, when eventually, we can only hope to hear “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21)

This guy has nothing to do with the topic of this post, but he sits on my microwave, and I love him, so I thought I would introduce you to him. Except…he doesn’t have a name. But doesn’t his mohawk rock?  He is very special to me.  Alexis made him when she was 8 years, in a pottery class she was taking.


If he doesn’t make you smile, I don’t know what’s wrong with you.

3) The X’s.

If a parent truly loves their child, they must be sure they get consequences, for their poor choices.

And in our system, those are represented by red X’s.   They go under that child’s initial, on another (huge) marker board, that is behind my desk, in my office cubby. I use the top of the board to track the point of process I am at with various clients.  But the bottom of the board is free & convenient for this purpose.

If a child knowingly and purposely makes a really bad choice, they get an X.  Now for the sake of this photo, I’m going to tell you that I put these X’s on the board, although there didn’t happen to be any at the moment.  But I have no problem telling you…..there are days I really love my child! ; )   Generally speaking, things run pretty smoothly around here, with the flow of our routines.  But I can tell you, usually when we have a bad day, there is a whole string of them! Maybe one of the kids is out of sorts, and is spreading the non-cheer. Or maybe “I” am tired, or not feeling great, (or both!) and am just feeling extra-non-tolerant of any antics.  Either way, these things can effect the whole family, like falling dominoes, and it usually takes a few days to get back on track. On those days, my red marker may get handled more than usual. ; )

Like the gems, which just feel good to get, and that should be enough > the x’s do not feel good to get. Ask any one of my kids. They are not at peace, if they even have 1-single-X. You should see them peek through the cut-out in the wall, (where the stairs to the 2nd floor are), or come around to my desk, to check their status.  But the X in and of itself is not enough. They need to work them off/pay for them, in a personal way. (One moment again, please.)

Here is what those X’s mean:

They have no privileges at all, until every x is gone.

They need to work it off, in their own way.

Here is how they mightget X’s:  This can really vary, as the good choices can. But poor choices may have been acquired from breaking a family rule, such as not keeping our flailing appendages to ourselves in moments of anger or frustration, striking another.  It may be from talking back in a fresh tone, or starting trouble with another. It may be from breaking a safety rule, OR……being called more than once in a row, for obviously not keeping their chart updated.  (Which usually means they did the do their responsibilities, but did not check the chart. However, the chart is there as a system, to keep things in order and running smoothly for our family. And it’s a responsibility that they are responsible for!  So…neglecting their chart leads to an X.)

The bad feeling they have inside, is also a natural consequence that we all feel, when we knowingly make a wrong choice. It may also happen as a result of the wrong-doing, that others are not happy with us, or something else negative came about as a direct result of the original poor choice. That also happens in life.   But the wrong must be righted, to be truly gone. (It also happens to be much like confession, in our Catholic faith. I know you are not all Catholic, but I’m sharing why this supports what we believe further.)  And so the child needs to do what they know needs to be done, to get it erased. Rectifying the wrong first and foremost must always end with a sincere apology to the offended or hurt, and a clear spoken explanation to myself or their father as to what they know they did wrong, why it was wrong, and ‘what their plan is’ for next time a similar situation comes up. More real talking. But ridding the x usually starts with choosing rights, by their own free will.  I never tell them what they must do.  That is up to them. But whatever it is, it is for the good of others, or the family, or our household.  They may decide to be extra helpful with picking up or cleaning the house, or sacrifice for others all day. One good thing, does not equate erasing an X. It’s when I know they have sincerely made efforts at choosing rights, and have apologized and spoken to us (also of their own free will), and in the meantime, have had no privileges. We let them know when we’re removing the X.  I can tell you, it’s a fair and reasonable deal in terms of exchange.  It’s just not something they can expect in exchange for any one thing in particular.   What they do get when that X is removed, is another sense of self-accomplishment, and rejoicing of their heart.  (Much like our feeling of coming out of Penance. Which by the way, I would hope the actions that the x’s represented are spoken of also. But that is between them & their Savior.)

In ‘The Big Picture’ this system works well in our family.  It keeps the kiddos responsible for themselves, and generally in check. And between the ✔’s, Gems, and X’s, it really keeps our home fairly in order, and clean-ish!  (Although it’s rarely ever both enough, for me. I have high standards there I guess, that seem to be impossibly unattainable.  We live here, it looks it, and I’m working on embracing it.) The system we use also helps the kids relate the facts: that choosing wrong not only feels bad personally inside, knowing we let down ourselves, others, and God, but ultimately results in consequences that are not fun to face, come that time. Being responsible, and making wise choices, is a learning process, and we all make mistakes from time to time. But we also need to realize that we are all accountable for ourselves and our choices, more and more so, as we get older. We will be held accountable for them, good or bad. For us, this system we use runs many parallels with life.  Gems, the good and right feeling inside, simply by knowing we chose the right (if sometimes more difficult) path, are what we would all like to have. But they are not just given to us. We must live our lives accordingly, to be worthy, day by day. Our lives as adults DO reflect how we are doing, averaging our own virtual gems & x’s. We are captains of our own ship. But it’s the process of learning to be led by our hearts & our morals while we are young, and wanting to please God, our loved ones, and ourselves, that gives us the practice, and the strength, to navigate more toward the light.  In the end, there can be no greater Gem.


*Thanks for reading, and letting us share a bit of the inner-workings of our family. We are certainly not parenting experts, but know many parents are often looking for new ideas, charts, or systems.  We wanted to offer any part of what works for us, to you, our readers & friends.  We hope you enjoyed the post, or have found something beneficial in it, for your family too.

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  1. 7
    Brenda says:

    What a wonderful idea…:) I think I’ll start one for myself and then work my way up to the kids…lol.

  2. 6
    Lacey says:

    The disclaimer at the top made me giggle! This post is wonderful and I will be book marking it for later use. I don’t think this would work with my 3.5 and 2 yr old…yet 🙂

  3. 5
    Maria says:

    So much to think about! Love it. Thank you for sharing!

  4. 4
    Lori M. says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post..thanks! At what age do you think the kids were able to decide how to make up for the X’s and come to you to speak about their decisions/actions for next time? Did you have a similar system in place when they were younger but gave them more guidance when working off the X?

    • 4.1
      Laura says:

      Hi Lori – I would say they were probably 6 or 6 1/2 years old? Prior to the chalkboard/stars/x’s system, no, we didn’t really use any system or charts. But I CAN say, I have always (always), talked to them about expectations of behavior/manners, always communicated with eye contact following any wrong choices, (after things settled), and….I have ALWAYS gone off about the state of the house, if it is messy. I’m a freak about that. So they have always heard (and hear) a LOT about me wanting everything picked up, cleaned, things where they belong, and about being a team as a family to keep the house in order, and clean by taking care of our own messes, belongings, etc. They all know how I like our home to be, and how I cannot stand it, so when they want to get rid of X’s, they know that will please me for sure! Vaccuuming, dusting, watering plants, putting away dishes, etc…are all always needing to be done. What is surprising is, they still don’t mind helping much, even when they do not have x’s! For example…I have a thing about the house being nice, before we go somewhere, because I want to come HOME to it that way later…and not a mess. So, they always jump in then too. Aside from that kind of thing: They have also heard/learned about treating others with love, hurting feelings, and doing what needs to be done with a sincere heart, after offending/hurting another.I’ve taught them to think about it, putting themselves in the others shoes, imagining the feelings that must have been hurt, and how they can mend the damage they have done, by apologizing and letting that person know -in words and actions- that they love & value them. And how in doing so, they would notice their own hearts feel better too.

      • Lori M. says:

        Thank you for the follow up! I had to laugh when you said you like coming home to a clean house. I’m the same way :o)

  5. 3
    Donna says:

    Wonderful! We will have to start using the gems! I love that idea so much. We have tried “If-Then” charts, sticker boards and even a “have a happy heart” chart but they were unsuccessful. Thanks for sharing your creative ideas!!

  6. 2
    Paula says:

    Wow. Wow. Wow.

  7. 1
    Pam says:

    Your kids are wonderful!!! <3 the gems and I think I may be borrowing that. I have been told I sometimes see more bad than good by my kids….this is a nice concrete tool to remind them of the good we see. Thanks.

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