The relationship between allowance and chores

I’ve heard the work/salary analogy argument; if I miss work, I won’t get paid, so the same should happen to my child if he doesn’t do his work.

Shekel money bills (photo credit: REUTERS)
Shekel money bills
(photo credit: REUTERS)
When it comes to determining allowance and chores and figuring out their relationship, it seems obvious for many parents to connect the two. If your child doesn’t do her chores, she doesn’t get her allowance. However, I think it works better to separate them. There are two main reasons for not basing allowance on whether or not your child does her chores. The first is related to teaching practical life lessons about money management.
The second has more to do with teaching positive family values.
Children should receive their allowance whether they do their chores or not. There are better consequences for not doing chores that you can use.
I’ve heard the work/salary analogy argument; if I miss work, I won’t get paid, so the same should happen to my child if he doesn’t do his work.
While this argument might sound theoretically plausible, it causes two problems that the work analogy doesn’t cover. The first is that children learn best when there is only one issue to resolve at a time. Learning money management is difficult enough without adding rewards and punishments in the mix related to chores. Kids learn financial responsibility better by keeping it simple.
The best way for children to learn how to manage money is if the amount they receive is predictable and limited. That way they can learn long-range planning while providing themselves with small pleasures that they buy themselves. All of us adults who have worked with variable monthly income know how difficult it is to manage. It is best for children to learn the lessons of regular money management before they are asked to do something that adults have trouble managing. I like the idea of teaching children to spend a little of their allowance when they receive it, and to save the rest for something they might want later that costs more.
Teaching to save can start with the first allowance.
The second reason for not using allowance as an incentive or punishment for doing chores is that chores are a family responsibility, not a job.
Let’s investigate this further.
Nearly every parent believes that children should do chores, however there are various ways to interpret what chores mean. I think it is best not to present chores as a job.
When chores are presented as jobs, their importance is minimized and a chance to build family unity is lost. A better way is to present chores is to call them “family responsibilities” with the focus on “family.” Communicate clearly that your family becomes stronger when everyone does their part to make it work. Teach it as a value, disconnected from reward or punishment. If you connect chores and allowance, you give your children an opt-out clause. If they prefer not to do chores and are willing to sacrifice their allowance, then they can legitimately ignore their responsibilities.
Chores can begin early. My grandchildren started helping doing the dishes at age two. That’s a good age to start. Begin by “playing house.”
Your child can think of a chore for you to play and you think of one for him. Do them together. Have your child practice teaching his favorite doll or stuffed animal to do its chores and what to do if the toy refuses. By teaching his toy about responsibility, he is teaching himself.
At this age, quality of work is irrelevant, but gradually over the next three years introduce the concept of doing it right. Don’t expect your child to automatically know how to do a chore or how to do it correctly.
They need to be taught.
Once, when I was having company, I asked my son to sweep the kitchen floor. It was his first time and all he did was move the dirt from one part of the floor to another. This led to an argument, with him declaring, “I’ll never sweep again.” Later, I realized that all he did is what he thought I was doing when I was sweeping. How much better it would have been to take the time to teach him the right way, rather than assuming he knew how.
One way to motivate children to do their chores is to give them a choice of which chores to do. Multiply the number of children you have by about three and present that list to your kids. Then let each child choose his own chore(s). Choosing their chores promotes responsibility.
Reserve a time for your children to do their chores at the same time each day or week if possible. Regularity builds habits. If you have more than one child, have them all do their chores at the same time whenever possible. It is easier to do work when others are working alongside of you. When some children are playing with the computer or watching television, it becomes very hard for a different child to do a chore.
Chores are an important part of connecting to family. Allowance is an important part of money management.
They are better separated.
The writer is the author of 20 books related to children’s behavior and motivation.
He is the director of graduate studies in behavior disorder at David Yellin College in Jerusalem.