Why I Pay My Young Kids To Do Chores

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
Courtesy of Rachel Garlinghouse

Summer is in full swing, and I’m shelling out dollars to my kids. Why? Well, it’s simple really. It helps all of us.

First, it motivates my kids to do their chores and other tasks. A few weeks ago, I created a daily checklist for each of my four kids. Yes, because I’m a teensy bit type A, but also because we have four kids; organization is essential if we’re going to accomplish anything. Each day, my kids have to read for thirty minutes, complete a page in their math and writing workbooks, practice their musical instruments for twenty minutes, and yes, do a few chores.

I never formalized chores in terms of a chart or schedule until this summer. My kids have done chores for years, starting in toddlerhood when we’d sing the ever-obnoxious but effective “clean up” song and toss toys into their designated bin. I thought chore charts were tedious, and honestly, they were just one more thing for me to keep track of.

However, one day I was chatting with a friend and mom of three, all of whom are older than mine. I was telling her how I was dreading my upcoming surgery, though I jokingly said there was a perk. I wouldn’t have to do chores for three months.

Being a work-at-home mom means the bulk of household chores falls on me. This isn’t because my husband doesn’t pitch in. He does. In fact, he does the dishes every night, mows the grass weekly, takes out the trash, changes fizzled out light bulbs, and gets up with the kids at night when they have bad dreams.

But since I spend most of my day in the house, I see the messes piling up. I grow agitated, my anxiety increasing. There are times I would rage-clean, even taking on pointless projects like organizing the pantry.

My friend agreed that messes drove her bonkers too. Then she told me to make my kids do chores. ASAP. Because her three were in their tween and teen years, and they didn’t lift a finger. She regretted not teaching them how to do household duties like taking out the recycling, loading the dishwasher, and hanging their clean laundry in the closet.

I didn’t want my kids to get to their teen years, or worse, in their first apartment, incapable of scrambling eggs or washing a load of laundry. Furthermore, as a former college teacher, I saw the effects of students with a strong sense of entitlement and a lack of personal responsibility. They blamed others for their procrastination and carelessness, they readily made ridiculous excuses, and sadly, they didn’t take pride in much at all.

I sure as heck didn’t want to raise entitled kids who laid on the couch playing video games and eating chips while I rushed around the house picking up dirty laundry off the floor and preparing dinner. No way. Not happening.

My husband and I sat our kids down, who were eight, six, and four at the time, and told them what was up. Mom was having surgery, and they’d be doing chores. We would teach them, dad would even work alongside them, but I was going to be down for the count. A three-month count.

It worked.

Oddly enough, they enjoyed doing chores, especially if we blasted their favorite music while working. They were proud of themselves and, at times, they cooperatively helped each other accomplish their assigned tasks so they could watch a movie or head outside.

The next year, I had another surgery. This time, I was on crutches for a month followed by twelve weeks of physical therapy. The kids got the same talk and had the same expectations.

Thankfully this year, there are no surgeries on the schedule. And because I knew my children were fully capable of pitching in, I decided to add a chore to their daily summer checklist. But this year it was different, because I was offering an incentive. A financial incentive.

My oldest three are completely obsessed with LEGO sets. So in addition to their monthly allowance, I offered a bonus. If they complete everything on their checklist every day for five days, Monday through Friday, they’d be given a few toy dollars every Friday. They could spend or save whenever they chose.

Courtesy of Rachel Garlinghouse

Let me tell you, it’s freaking magical. $1 a day from me to them? Turns out that was all it took to kick things up a notch in the chore department.

Time to read? No prob, Mom! Math worksheet? Let’s go! Chore time? On it!

Call me Mary Poppins without the spoonful of sugar.

And, I decided to offer a bonus. For the kiddo who was exemplary that week, meaning a great attitude, I’d offer a few extra dollars.

There are so many perks to the toy dollar method. First, my kids are learning how to save and spend. Patience is a virtue, or something like that, right? They have to wait for what they want until they have enough toy dollars.

Also, my kids know that they don’t get paid if they don’t do the work. That’s real life. On the flip side, when they work, they are paid accordingly.

However, the payment is attainable. In total, my older kids “work” about an hour-and-a-half a day, including their chores. The rest of the day? Summer fun. We swim, meet up with friends, watch movies, and chill.

This reward system has also ended the “gimmies.” You know, when kids beg their parents to give them toys, candy, expensive clothing, or electronic time? My kids know that if they want it, they earn it. The only exception is birthdays and Christmas.

Ultimately, we upped the chore game, and our kids have something to be proud of. My six, eight, and ten-year-old kids can all wash, dry, and put away their own laundry. They help make dinner, load the dishwasher, and wipe down the counter tops after a snack. My oldest two kids can make a healthy breakfast, including eggs and fruit.

They are capable and confident. And they’ve learned that mom isn’t a role that requires me to do everything for everyone all of the time. I hope this is a lesson my kids carry with them when they have their own families.

Though it certainly wasn’t my life plan to have two big surgeries in a two-year span, I am thankful for the opportunity to encourage my kids to step up and take care of their home and one another.

All it took was a laid-up mom and a few toy dollars.

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