When my daughter Sofia wrote a few weeks ago about how allowance works in our house, she opened some questions. The most important being: is allowance a payment for chores? The short answer is no, but the long answer is more interesting.
Why Paying Kids to Help Doesn’t Work
When my kids were little, I learned that their interest in money was inconstant. One day they might jump at the chance to earn a quarter by sweeping the kitchen; other days, they might just want to keep playing what they were playing.
The problem with tying chores to money is that it’s too easy for a child to opt out. If we offer $0.25 every time a child cleans his room, when he says, “No, thanks, I don’t need that $0.25 today, you can clean my room,” then we’re stuck. Not only do we get a messy room, but our kids lose out on a chance to learn about money.
So when I needed help that was consistent and sustainable — and having baby number three was the turning point — I didn’t bring money into the equation. I didn’t want to be disappointed when my daughters said, “No, thanks,” so I made “no” not an option.
We Can Expect a Lot from Our Kids — Without Ever Bringing up Money
My daughters started helping me with cleaning the entire house — from bathrooms to living rooms — when they were only five and seven. I instructed them a few times, and for difficult areas like the bathroom, I wrote up a how-to sheet.
Now ten and eight years old, Sofia and Virginia are still helping me with major cleaning chores, and as you can see from the pictures, my four-year-old son Mark is getting in on the action. (And he’s quite proud about it.)
Ironically, the most difficult part of this whole process is deciding to require children to help and committing to it. I totally get that asking kids to pitch in doesn’t come naturally. So many factors work against us in our affluent and child-centered society, and frankly, this old-fashioned kind of lifestyle may not appeal to everyone.
I didn’t grow up helping out a lot, so how did I end up with a family of little worker bees? I’ve given the “how” a lot of thought, and tomorrow I explain more at Parentables in Why My Elementary-Age Kids Help Me Clean the House.
Chores are a Part of Everyday Life, They’re Not Practice for a Real Job
I don’t see chores as a way to teach kids how to earn money. That may come down the line, but I think what comes first is teaching them responsibility. I don’t know anyone who gets paid to brush their teeth or to fold their own laundry. I also don’t know many bosses who tell their employees, “I’ll pay you $50 if you write this memo.”
Doing a good job is something that we should expect of ourselves and our children because it’s the right thing to do. Asking children to complete tasks without a monetary reward allows them to experience the inherent satisfaction in doing a job well.
Don’t you feel kind-of good when you see a room go from messy and dirty to tidy and clean? I know I do. There can be something fun about working, and my kids have learned that too. They may whine and complain at first, but like adults who exercise, once they’re in the zone and especially when they see concrete results, they feel proud.
Why Allowance Should Not Be Used as a Reward (or Punishment)
One time my kids drove my husband crazy, and he docked their allowance. In the heat of the moment, all parents grasp for punishments that we hope will squelch bad behavior. But there was something dispiriting about taking away the allowance; it was almost like a break of trust.
My kids have come to count on those few dollars a month, and it helps them plan for the future. “In three more months, I’ll have enough in Share to help save an Arctic fox,” Virginia will say. It’s hard to mete out any kind of punishment for talking back or being mean, but I’d much rather make my kids go to bed early, skip screen time, or clean out the car, than take away their little allowance.
Just as I expect my kids to help as a part of life, I have come to see allowance as a similar non-negotiable commitment — on my part.
Chores are Good for Kids; Allowance is Good for Parents (and Vice-Versa)
I confess that the whole reason I started giving allowance was to stop the begging every time we’d walk into a store. Now that my kids have their own money, pleading has almost disappeared. What’s more, with the simple act of giving segmented allowance, I feel like I’m teaching them self-discipline and delayed gratification, without doing much of anything. It’s a system that regulates itself.
Expecting children to help by setting up a system of family chores not only makes for a functional, tidy, and harmonious household, but, by asking children to help, we are also showing them that they are essential and needed and that we have confidence in their capabilities.
Even if families don’t ask their kids to help much around the house, I still think allowance is a useful exercise. If our schools and universities are not teaching kids how to manage money, where else are they going to get that training?
These conclusions about chores and allowance did not come to me in the middle of the night while holding my first-born. As I hope I have shown you, I am always living and learning, and changing as our journey evolves. Because cooperating and intentional allowance seems to be bringing our family closer and making our children stronger, I wanted to share that with you.
Have you tried a system of family chores? If you’d like to but haven’t, what obstacles are you facing? Let me know in the comments.