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The Big Question: Should I Pay My Kids to Do Chores? Why the Big Answer is NO

Here’s a gem of a question I hear weekly:  Should I pay my kids to do chores?  It doesn’t sound like a hard question to answer on the surface, right?  But what I’ve found is the topic is touchy and frustrating for a lot of parents.  The general consensus I hear is, “I get paid to work, so I should pay my kids to work around the house.”  Sure, that makes sense intellectually, but in real life? Not so much. 

What parents REALLY discover when they try to connect chores with cash is that they are only funding and fueling an entitlement in their kids that they aren’t sure how to reverse.  That’s because allowance and chores really SHOULDN’T go hand in hand.  The ‘pay for performance’ strategy of allowance for chores has been going on forever but it’s flawed. How? When money becomes a reward for doing ordinary household tasks like setting the table, mowing the lawn or doing the laundry, you set up a question in their minds of “what’s in it for me?” every time they’re asked to pitch in. 

New York Times Best Selling author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink, puts this conundrum of paying for chores perfectly, “This 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.” 

The truth is that there are a lot of great life lessons that can be taught from supplying an allowance, and there are even more lessons to learn from contributing as a family member – they just don’t belong in the same lesson plan.  Time to make a few essential changes…

First – change your language.  Call something a “chore” and you conjure up feelings of drudgery, work, and a put-upon attitude. Call it a “contribution” and you’re taking part in helping out the team.  While it may seem like semantics – it does make a world of difference to your kids.  Will it make Susie delighted to unload the dishwasher? Maybe not, but it will send the message that her efforts make an important contribution to the entire family. 

Second – make the routine the boss. To avoid having to constantly remind your kids to actually do their family contributions, let the routine be the boss for a change. You’ll do that with a fabulous tool called When-Then Routines - a parenting favorite from the Un-Entitler Toolbox. (A collection of strategies from my latest book, The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic which is a step-by-step guide to raising capable, grateful kids in an over-entitled world.)  Here’s how it works: Structure your kids less desirable tasks to occur before those things that are very desirable.  At the same time, let them know that you’re not there to wait on them hand and foot. Next, create When-Then Routines for morning, afternoon and evening.  For example, your child’s after school routine might be, “When you’ve finished your homework and completed your Family Contributions, then you can enjoy your 30 minutes of computer time.” Or, the evening routine might be: “When you’ve cleared the table and picked up your toys, then you can go outside and play until 7:00 pm.” Once your kids are well established in their When-Then Routines, there will be no need to remind and no reason for a power struggle! 

Third – be clear about consequences.  If you have trouble with family contributions remaining incomplete, use consequences—just make sure they follow the Positive Discipline 5 R’s: respectful, related, reasonable, revealed in advance, and repeated back to you. Let your child know up front that if he doesn’t clean his room every Saturday by noontime, you’ll be happy to do it for him; however, anything lying around on the floor or bed will go into a box and be unavailable for the next week.  He’ll realize he’s not entitled to a free ride and you can be sure the room will be clean come next Saturday!

Next, let’s tackle allowances.  Yes, if you are able, your kids should receive an allowance – but NOT for doing Family Contributions.  In fact, it shouldn’t be tied to performance at all. 

Allowances should be considered a teaching tool, not a bribe or motivator.  This new mindset is a huge win for both you and your kids.  Why?  Because a) you get to help your kids learn about spending, saving and giving, and b) you’re helping them feel more trusted and responsible and teaching them about budgeting and delayed gratification. (Score!) Here’s how to start…

First, explain that with allowance comes responsibility. Let your kids know which expenses they’ll be responsible for covering from their allowance - from toys to iTunes and whatever else. As your kids get older, you’ll want to increase their allowance to cover more age appropriate expenses like school lunch, clothing and gifts. (You aren’t forking out any more cash than you would normally – it’s just that your child is doing the budgeting/spending.) 

Kids should receive enough allowance money to cover expenses and a little extra to save for bigger purchases – but not so much they can buy anything on a whim. (After all, raising un-entitled kids includes lessons in delayed gratification, right?)

Second, teach them the trifecta of money management.  Want a great way to teach fiscal responsibility from a young age? Set up SPEND, SAVE, and GIVE “accounts.”  (Three envelopes will do the trick.) As kids get more practice with money, you can teach important lessons in budgeting and even taking out a loan. (The “ground rules” for loaning money to kids is covered in Chapter 8: Money and Sense of The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic.)

Third, let them LEARN.  They will make mistakes, overspend, spend recklessly, and wind up without enough money at times.  Don’t bail them out. When you let them figure it out they will learn the value of the dollar and choose more wisely down the road.

Disconnecting the idea of family contributions and allowance is a big step in raising responsible, un-entitled kids that pitch in without having to dangle carrots. Both contribution and allowance are powerful factors that will make a lasting impact on your child.  Start putting these strategies in place today and reap the rewards (that are way more valuable than money!)

Want to learn more about curbing entitlement while encouraging cooperation?  Pick up a copy of Amy’s new book, The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic:  A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World.  Available August 11, 2015 wherever books are sold.

Get FREE COACHING with Amy McCready when you pre-order The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic.  Learn more at www.AmyMcCready.com.

Author and Parenting Expert

Parenting expert Amy McCready is the author of The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic (Tarcher) and the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions. She is also the author of If I Have to Tell You One More Time (Tarcher, 2011). A champion of positive parenting techniques for happier families and well-behaved kids, she reaches a worldwide audience with her Positive Parenting Solutions Online parenting course, web and print articles, live webinars, and media appearances. Amy is a frequent guest on the TODAY show and has also appeared on Rachael Ray, CNN, Fox & Friends, MSNBC, and elsewhere. She lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with her husband and two sons. Learn more here.