Thursday, July 30, 2015

Paying kids for chores- a big YES or a fat NO?



While I was sitting leisurely in a park one afternoon, I overheard this interesting conversation between a mother and her son-

"Honey, can you please pick up the bottle for your little sister?"

"Sure, Mom, how much will you pay me?"

"We will see later. Please pick the teether as well, sweetie"

"Of course, for a loonie."

"These boys, I tell you, drive me loony." She gave me an embarrassed smile and went away with her baby in a stroller and her 6- year old boy.

The first thought that struck me was- this is a typical case of allowance system for chores! I kept pondering- Is it right to give allowance to kids? Is it OK to attach compensation with house chores? What is a good age to start? If I don't, will I be different from other "much aware" parents? What is a good amount? If, I pay on the conservative side, will I be a scrooge for my kids? And, if I pay more, will I be turning them into brats?

Once you become a parent, there is a lot of dilemma around a child's upbringing and the right approach that will help them leverage life skills. Obviously, you don't want to set the wrong precedents which might look fancy at the start (when they are young), but will be equally difficult to handle in later years when they grow up and start maneuvering us around the set rules.

Compensating your kids for chores is perhaps the biggest point of contention and has raised a lot of eyebrows in the parenting world. While some vouch for it, others are totally against it! Some parents believe in the paying mechanism to nurture a sense of responsibility and financial budgeting in their kids, another set of parents postulate giving money without any ‘strings attached’, while the third set of parents give credence to not paying at all. It is difficult to decide which path will teach them the value of hard-earned money and not lead them to getting things served in a platter. The debate is unending.

 Recently, I met two mothers who raise their kids’ on two totally different allowance philosophies: one says it is a must-do while the other condemns the thought, shaking her head left to right.

Yes, I pay my kids for house chores-

“You know, there comes an age when children start coveting stuff- for a small girl, it might be a Barbie doll she saw with her friend in the park and for a teenager, a new video game in the market. These are the times when they would look for an extra form of income to cater to those needs. I always pay my 7-year old daughter for the chores she does. It helps her understand the consequences of her actions regarding work. It is simple- you don’t do your assigned work, you don’t get paid!

My daughter has realized the concept that minimal work will earn her minimal resources. Also, it is very appeasing to see how my little darling learns to budget her finances, while also gaining a sense of appreciation for how much things cost. This system works perfectly in our household. Parents do need to teach their kids the importance of financial responsibility and that money needs to be earned, rather than it being a weekly affair.”

No, I do not pay my kids for house chores-

“We have always maintained in our house that the whole family is a single entity- we work as a team. Nobody throws a buck if my husband or I lay the table or clear the trash, then why should the kids be paid for the same? At the end of the day, all members in the family should be treated equal and therefore, disparity in house chores is also a no-no! (obviously, there are some chores which are age-bound). Children should be cognizant of the fact that money is never the driving force to help the family. I always tell them that the whole family contributes and works together- not because we are being paid, but because it’s part of being a family.

However, both our boys do receive a monthly allowance, but it is not contingent on chores. We have set a fixed monthly amount based on their age, and they get it on the first day of every month. Now, it is for them to decide- whether they want to spend or save it (if yes, then how much), but if they decide to spend the whole money on the first day, they do not get it for the remaining 29 days. This gives them a sense of managing their allowance so that it at least takes them through to the start of next month.”

My Take-

There is nothing as right or wrong; whatever system you decide to adopt in your household, it is important to remember that the whole idea of parenting is to prepare our kids for the “real world”, to teach them that money needs to be earned. It is important for them to realize that every desire cannot be fulfilled instantly and also, that the feeling of giving to those in need is very satisfying. In reality, one is not paid for cleaning the cat’s litter or filling the water bottles. On the contrary, they will be paid for their skill sets- management skills, salesman skills or handyman skills.

Therefore, kids should acknowledge and respect the fact that they are part of the family and simple household chores need to be done by all. So, tasks like making the bed, clearing the toys in the room, or cleaning the dishes should not be accounted for.

However, it is perfectly fine to pay children for tasks that require more effort/time. One could prepare a list of ‘mutually agreed tasks’ that will be compensated if done and stick it in a common area. The list might include tasks like mowing the garden, washing the windows, or babysitting. For smaller kids, you can make it more fun by collecting stars for all the good-work done and evaluating the total stars at the end of the week. The child can chose to monetize the stars in return of a toy/ treat or can collect more for a bigger gift.

There are five pillars to incredulous money management skills: Basic maths (to count your money), saving (benefits of delayed gratification), budgeting (admeasuring your money for different purposes), accounting (to keep of track of your money) and goal-setting (for special targets). There is no harm in awarding children with allowances, as long as the intent is to teach them how to handle money responsibly. The way your children got the money is not important; that will not make them money smart, but how they handle their money when they have it with them, is what matters.

Age-appropriate discussions with your children about household finances will also increase such skills. Times are gone when money-talk with kids was optional. Curiosities around family finances were either diverted or were answered in a manner so that the kids lost interest. In today’s era, when teenagers are deciding their colleges or study loan, the need to have conversations revolving around money, matters. As parents, this is the best act of protection and parental guidance that we can commit to our children so that when time comes, they are well equipped to handle and henceforth take worthy decisions.

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