Excerpt: The Power of Parent-Child Play, Responsibility and Self-Reliance

Kids and Allowances: How even young children can earn and learn.

The door jingled as we entered the small gift shop.

“There they are!” 9-year-old Aimee said. She held up a little stuffed dog. “This one is so cute!”

“I want one too!” exclaimed Elisa, age three and half.

I explained to her, for the second time, that Aimee was spending her own, hard-earned allowance. Elisa looked very unhappy.

“But I want one really, really, really bad.”

“Well, what could you do to earn it?” I asked her.

Elisa stood still, thinking. “How ’bout if I do a chore like Aimee and Tyler every day?” She rambled on about how Tyler does the recycling and Aimee sets the table. Then she said, “I could empty the dishwasher every day, not do the knives ’cause they’re too sharp, but I could empty the rest.”

I told her it would take her four weeks to earn that eight-dollar stuffed dog, but if she did a great job, she could start earning a regular allowance–two dollars a week! Elisa eagerly agreed.

Elisa kept her promise.  Eleven years later–age 14 1/2– she is still faithfully emptying the dishwasher. Now she gets a bit more than two dollars for that and other chores, and the cash goes towards her cell phone service!

In our family, the purpose of giving our children allowances is not to directly pay them for chores, although they often see it that way. In fact, from this episode it may seem that way, but only because we hadn’t planned on starting Elisa’s so soon. In general we have always told our kids that as part of the family, we want them to share in our family finances and learn how to budget. In return, they’re expected to help keep the family household running smoothly.

Parents don’t want to be in a position where children expect to be paid for everything they do to help around the house. However, sometimes in addition to their weekly or daily chores, they’re given the option of earning more with specific jobs–for instance, helping change the oil in the car or power-washing the driveway.

We have also always differentiated between Personal Chores and Family Chores. The former are expected, no matter what (cleaning own room, bathing, tooth brushing, etc.) and do not earn the child any money (although we’ve been known to use stickers and other incentives!).  Family chores are ones that benefit the entire household. We discovered–as did Elisa–that we were actually dependent on her. We couldn’t eat unless we had clean dishes to put on the table, and dirty ones could not be washed until she put away the clean ones! It made her feel very responsible and necessary.  To make this chore easier for her, we let her stack the plates on low shelves in the cupboard.

How much to pay? Every family is different, but for us the amount of the allowance varies according to the child’s age and his or her ability to manage money. The big kids enjoy freedom to use allowance money for swimming or the movies. Older kids are given more, but also expected to use their own money to buy birthday gifts for friends or family, and eventually many of their own clothes–and learn to find bargains.

What new way can your child help the family today? What chores do your kids do, and at what age?



Excerpt from: Chapter 10: Chores are Done, Time for Fun!, page 157 in The Power of Parent-Child Play, by Laurie Winslow Sargent (2003, Tyndale House Publishers).