It's time to talk chores. Whether your kids are still young or they've firmly entered tween and teen territory, there's no denying that giving your sweet angels a set of age-appropriate chores serves a bounty of benefits, not least of which is a slightly lighter load for you as a parent.
Among the hottest of parenting debates is whether or not you should pay your kids to do their chores, with plenty of reasonable and valid arguments on both sides. Scary Mommy talked to a slew of financial experts and child psychologists alike, and we're breaking down the pros and cons of doling out some cold, hard cash for a job well done.
Pony Up, Parents — They Deserve an Allowance
"Paying kids to do chores is a deeply personal decision, and every family should do what fits their unique financial situation. But it can be a great way to start teaching your kids about the value of money and instill healthy financial habits from an early age," says Ksenia Yudina, CFA, founder and CEO of UNest.
How early, you may ask? Yudina recommends following their lead and discussing money with them as soon as they express a curiosity about it. "Studies have shown that children begin to grasp money concepts by age three and that many of their money habits are set by age seven. That's why we encourage parents to start teaching their kids about money as soon as possible," with Yudina recommending these conversations begin around age six.
When you do start handing out cash, your kids will quickly see the benefits of working hard, adds Candice Moses, financial data analyst and CMO of Information: "Rewarding children for their efforts encourages kids to acquire an appreciation for the value of hard work."
Make It Age- and Ability-Appropriate
Still, Moses notes that "the incentive should be proportional to the task and appropriate for the child's age group," adding, "It's just not feasible for most families to pay children a lot of money for simple chores. If you're going to pay your kids to do chores, make sure it's fair in terms of both your budget and the complexity of the task. As a parent, you may encourage your children to do their duties by rewarding them for their efforts."
If you're unsure about how to broach the allowance bridge, start small, especially if you're on the fence about how they might handle having extra pocket change, says Dr. Marla Deibler, licensed clinical psychologist and the founder of the Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia. "Age-appropriate rewards, such as stickers, small items, or activities are great options for younger kids, while money, tangible rewards, or activities are great for older kids and teens."
Paul Sundin, CPA, tax strategist and CEO of Emparion, doesn't feel that every chore warrants a paycheck. (After all, you as a parent do every task 24/7 without being paid for your efforts!) "Basic chores, like cleaning their room or making their bed, shouldn't be paid since kids should learn the value of living in a clean home while they're young," says Sundin. "Special chores, such as helping with the garden or washing windows, should definitely be paid for since children shouldn't be expected to do those."
Financial planner Carrie Fischer is a fan of paying out for chores that "don't necessarily benefit the entire home" — e.g., staying on top of bedroom messes — and then encouraging them to get a job outside the home when they're older and saying au revoir to the allowance. "No child likes to do these household chores, but putting a dollar value on it makes a difference. Of course, they must complete the chores as assigned without reminders. It's a great way to teach your kid about giving, saving, and spending money at a young age."
Pass on the Paycheck
Not every expert is convinced that cash for chores is a good strategy, even if you do give a general allowance. As Kimball Lewis, the CEO of EmpoweringParents.com, puts it, "Paying your child to meet an expected responsibility is akin to a bribe, and we do not recommend bribing your child to meet their expected responsibilities." Lewis finds that tying money too closely to chores might teach your child that they can charge you money for good behavior — your child might eventually stop doing any good deeds, such as cleaning up a spill, without being rewarded for them.
"When we use rewards/punishments to control children, they eventually stop working," adds parenting-focused clinical psychologist Nanika Coor, Psy.D. "You then have to make the reward more and more rewarding or the punishment more and more unpleasant — both are unsustainable. When you focus on your connection with your child rather than forcing them to do what you want, they're more likely to cooperate voluntarily because they care about their relationship with you. Allowance is one thing, and 'contributing to the family home' — which sounds so much less horrible than the word 'chore' to a kid — is entirely another."
Author David Delisle, who writes about teaching kids financial literacy skills, says his goal as a parent "isn't to incentivize kids to do chores but rather to teach them that we all participate in maintaining the household together as a family. I want them to see it as being part of a community and pitching in because it's the right thing to do. Not because they will be financially rewarded."
Adds Delisle, "I like to separate chores from teaching finances and earning money." Sometimes, when the two are intertwined, he argues, "We can easily find ourselves with kids that are only willing to help out if they receive something in return… and none of us want that."