Should you pay them for chores?

Last week I talked about starting children early in helping out with family responsibilities. One of the points had to do with Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic rewards. Have a look here.

Intrinsic Rewards – “I can do something and by doing that something, I feel good about myself. It all comes from me!”

Extrinsic Rewards – “I need someone to tell me something or give me something. I don’t then feel good about myself, I feel good about what I got.

Paying children for work they do in the family is an Extrinsic Reward and can be effective when done properly.

1. It is your child’s first employer/employee experience.

2. It helps to teach motivation to work hard.

3. It is your child’s first lesson in money management.

4. Unlike allowance, it teaches that money is not simply handed out to those standing in line.

Do we pay children for brushing their teeth or cleaning their room?  Absolutely not!  Do we pay them for setting the table or clearing the table?  Not a good idea.  Some things are done just because they are necessary and because we are a family.  What about cleaning the bathroom?  These days, lots of children have their own or a shared children’s bathroom.  Best to have them take turns keeping it clean.  However, the most important part is for the adults to put their heads together FIRST and decide what will receive pay and what is required as just being part of the family.

How much?

Before I talk about how much, let cover what to say.

Payday (pay hour for children), is a fabulous opportunity for adult and child to connect in a meaningful way.  When the child has done a good job (even if much of their time was playing and singing – but still they did what you asked), the best message to communicate is, “Thank you for the work you did!  I appreciate you so much!”  Once you have thanked them, you can ask questions like, “How did you do that?” and make comments like, “I didn’t think of doing it that way, good idea!” or “You are great to have around! I can’t wait to see some of your other ideas!”  These statements facilitate the child coming to conclusions like – I did a good job!  I’m good at this! I’m strong! I’m smart! I’m important!  When YOU say, “Good job!” you steal their thunder.  Why not let them take all of the personal power?!

Alternatively, if they have not made a good effort, you can just as lovingly sit down with them, making good eye contact and ask them how they feel they did on the job.  “Bob, your job was do rake up this section of leaves and put them in the barrel.  How do you think you did?”  If they did not do so well, you can, 1. offer to give them another chance, or 2. tell them, “I’m not going to be able to give you the full two dollars because you did not complete the job.”

When your feedback is, “Good job!” you steal their thunder.  Why not let them take all of the personal power.

Preschool and Younger

A quarter dropped through the slot of a piggy bank can be very gratifying to a young child, the putting it in the slot and “clank” it makes when if falls in the jar.  In fact, it is much more gratifying than handing them a dollar bill. You will want to be discrete. We would never line up the manager with the shelf stocker with the bagger, or the 15 year employee with the 5 week employee and hand out their pay.

Elementary Through Middle School

$1 to $4 is appropriate for most jobs.  A child who is benefitting from intrinsic rewards already, will be grateful for any amount that their parent or other adult deems appropriate.  Far too often, I have seen well-meaning parents, aiming to get their child started with chores by “bribing” the child with things like, enough money for a new playstation game.  This is completely inappropriate.  It is not true to life and will do nothing more than teach your child how to manipulate.  The parent asks, “Will you rake leaves?  If you do a good job I will pay you.”  The child says, “How much will you pay me?”  That’s all I have to say about this.  You understand, this will not accomplish the task of leaf raking or the lesson of work ethic.

High School

If you have played your cards right, you’ll know how much to pay your high schoolers.  You aren’t going to pay market value for a lawn mowing, but you are going to use that as a guidepost.  After all, your children are still eating the food you buy and sleeping in the bed you provided.  They are not self-supporting, so it does not make sense to pay them as an employee.

How much goes hand in hand with teaching money management skills.  Spending, saving, giving, these are important lessons to start learning early, even with their quarters in their piggy bank.  Some call it “saving” but you can just as well call it, “collecting money.”  The act of collecting money is a very useful goal.  They can spend the money to collect little action figures or matchbox cars – which are fun to collect, but when they collect money, they will eventually learn how valuable it can be to them and they won’t be as likely to let it keep slipping through their fingers on things that are later destined for the trash heap.

Children feel good about themselves by doing a good job and pleasing their parents and other adults who care for them. When children feel good about something they have done, they are likely to do more of the same. It is false to think that money alone is going to be either a motivator or the mechanism by which a child is going to feel good about themselves.

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