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What’s up, Doc? : Prep kids for life with chores, allowance

Question: My husband and I have never had a set allowance for our boys, who are 7 and 5. Our older son is starting to want to buy more things – toys, trading cards, etc. I am torn. I feel like our kids should help out around the house without getting paid. But I would also like to help them start to understand how to budget their money. What do you think?

Answer: This is an age-old question. Should you pay a child for doing chores around the house?

Here’s my question to parents: Are you rearing your child in a home or a hotel? If the answer is a home, then everybody in the family ought to work for the benefit of the family.

Now, because you are a member of the family, you ought to get a small portion of the recreational budget, for lack of a better term. I can hear parents thinking right now, ‘We can’t afford to give our child an allowance.’ Ride the pony just a little longer. Think about how much money you spend on your 5-year-old in a given week. Think about how much you spend on a 10- or 15-year-old in a week. Why not use part of that money as an allowance so the child has a sense of ownership of some dollars on a regular basis.

But you must make sure their responsibilities as part of the family are meaningful. If you’re having a difficult time thinking of a chore for a 12-year-old, have them pay the family bills. They can pay them online probably better than you can. Give them some real responsibility. It shows them how much it costs to run a family.

Five-year-olds can pick up their own bedrooms. They can help with laundry. They can fold towels. They can help Mommy shop.

Ten-year-olds can wash cars, do their own laundry, do dishes, help prepare dinner. The more real-life chores you give a child, the better. If you are a single mom with a 16-year-old who is mechanically inclined, let him or her change the oil in the car. Figure where their strengths lie and use them to better the family.

A 5-year-old might get an allowance of $1.50 per week. A 10-year-old might get $5. A 16-year-old might get an allowance of $150 per month. Again, I can hear parents falling off their chairs saying, ‘Are you crazy?’ Maybe. But think about the money you spend on a 16-year-old. If they are driving the family car, they can also be responsible for taking some of their allowance money and putting it in the gas tank.

We started out with the question do you pay kids for chores? No, you don’t pay kids for chores. Everybody does chores because they are a member of the family. But everybody also has an allowance.

What happens when your 5-year-old refuses to help, or your 10-year-old forgets to do something or your 16-year-old doesn’t cut the lawn when he’s supposed to? What do you do? I think you tap into a child’s allowance and you hire someone else to do the job. When you do that, you are holding them accountable. You are hitting them where it hurts – in the wallet – and you are imitating life.

Remember that the home needs to be a training ground for life for kids. And one of the ways you do that is delegate responsibility so everyone is helping the family succeed.

If you don’t, you reinforce the fact that kids view reward in life as their right. You patronize the idea that life owes me something. And these children have a shock awaiting them as they enter real life.

Dr. Kevin Leman is a Tucson psychologist and the best-selling author of 28 books, including “Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours.” Send questions to whatsupdoc@tusoncitizen.com. Photo by Tom Spitz Photography.

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