You’ve barely entered the store and the whining starts. “Moooooom, why can’t I get the new LEGO Star Wars video game?” And back at home when you ask Alex to set the table? “But Moooo-oom…I’m tired!”
Sigh. Maybe it’s time for an allowance. After all, what better way to get Alex to do his chores and let him buy his own video games, right?
If only it were that easy. Our overall goal is to motivate, but connecting an allowance to household duties does the opposite. By focusing on the payoff for the chore rather than the contribution made to the family, we create – and reinforce – a negative lesson. Rather than encouraging our child to do something for its intrinsic value, we instead teach them to ask, “What’s in it for me?”
Daniel Pink, author of The New York Times bestseller, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, tells us that paying kids to do chores “...sends kids a clear (and clearly wrongheaded) message: In the absence of a payment, no self-respecting child would willingly set the table, empty the garbage, or make her own bed. …. It converts a moral and familial obligation into just another commercial transaction–and teaches that the only reason to do a less-than-desirable task for your family is in exchange for payment.”
So what’s a parent to do? Rest assured: we do have a way to take the whine out of taking out the garbage. And an allowance is a great way to teach our kids financial responsibility and money sense. While there are always questions about when to start allowance and how much to give, the key is to implement allowance and chores separately:
Start By Discussing “Family Contributions”
Sweep “chore” right out of your vocabulary. While the word “chore” conjures up images of Cinderella scrubbing the castle floors, the idea of a family contribution will instead remind our kids that they play an important role in helping the household run smoothly.
Granted, Emma may not jump for joy when she’s asked to help put laundry away, but her new perception of the task gains her a feeling of personal significance and sense of belonging to the family.
Revel in the Win-Win Arrangement That is an Allowance
Not only will your kids feel grown up to have their own “income,” but it will be a big step in learning real-life skills, including the benefits of good decisions and the consequences of bad ones.
The key is that the allowance is not tied to family contributions, or good grades, or winning the big game. Instead, use this opportunity to teach them about saving for things they really want, budgeting for the future, and charitable giving.
As the parent, set limits around the weekly allowance amount and what it can be spent on. The amount you give should be age appropriate and not entirely comfortable. If Alex can buy every video game he sees, you’re not teaching him anything.
Instead, choose an amount that can reasonably cover the expenses you expect him to take on–iTunes and app purchases, entertainment, and toys–and that gives him the option to save for the special game he really wants. He’ll also learn the invaluable concept of delayed gratification.
As kids get older, consider giving them a larger amount each week or month for allowance, but increase the items that they’ll be expected to cover. A tween or teen can learn important life lessons by budgeting her monthly allowance to cover lunch money, entertainment, clothes, app downloads, etc. If she blows all of her money in the first week, she’ll experience the natural consequences of poor budgeting and will likely do better next month.
By separating–but still implementing–family contributions and allowances, we are able to teach far more valuable lessons than the two could ever hope to achieve combined. And who would have thought that intrinsic motivation and financial responsibility could start with a few loads of laundry and $10 a week?
I know how difficult it can be to make this shift–especially since parents want to motivate their children in a way that finally works. Allowance, when given as payment for chores, is equivalent to giving a reward. And we know from research and practice that rewards aren’t an effective long-term strategy.
While offering a no-strings-attached allowance and shifting your language away from chores to “contributions” are great first steps to motivating your child, we know there may be other parenting struggles plaguing you. If you’re struggling with backtalk or bedtime routines or mealtime (or any other power struggle), please know we are here for you.
I’d be honored if you’d join me for a FREE ONLINE CLASS. I’ll teach you how to get your kids to listen–no nagging, reminding, or yelling required.
I know you want the absolute best for your kids, so please know IT IS POSSIBLE to raise confident, capable, and respectful children. I’ve helped thousands of families finally find peace in their home once again. The same can be true for you!
As always, we are wishing you the best on your parenting journey!