Q. Now that my oldest son is 10, I feel he's old enough to help out more around the house. He is already tidying his room on a weekly basis, but I would like him to help with things like setting the table for dinner and emptying the trash in the bathrooms. My husband thinks we should give him a weekly allowance for these extra tasks, but I disagree. Helping around the house should be part of living in the house. At what point do you think children need to be compensated for doing work around the house? And how much is fair?
A. There are three factors at work that beg your consideration:
1. Family duties. Because kids live in the family home, they're expected to contribute to the overall functioning of the household. Putting clothes down the laundry chute, helping with dinner and dishes, and tidying one's bedroom and bathroom are givens. People should also be expected to clean up after themselves. If a child builds a model airplane, he needs to put the supplies away and clean any up any mess once he's completed the project.
2. Learning about money. Children, particularly those age 10 and older, need the opportunity to learn to manage money. Thereby an allowance that's tied to learning financial management can be a good idea. To explain, give your son an allowance somewhere between $5.00 and $10.00 per week and then tell him you expect him to save a portion (about a dollar per week), to give a charity or your religious organization, and then the rest he can spend as he chooses.
If he spends all his money on candy on Monday when he receives his allowance, and then wants to rent a DVD to watch with a friend on Friday night, don't fork over the cash. Simply say, "You spent all your allowance, you'll need to plan better next week."
3. Compensation for extra work. When children complete tasks that are over and above their line of duty, then they can be paid for their work. Mowing the lawn, cleaning the garage or basement, babysitting younger siblings, or cleaning kitchen cupboards fall into this category.
Now the obvious question is, what happens if the child refuses to tidy his bedroom and bathroom, help with dinner and dishes, put dirty clothes in the hamper, or clean up his messes? Parents can decide between withholding the allowance, withdrawing privileges such as time at the computer or TV, or employing reciprocity, "Since you haven't helped me with dishes this week, I can't drive you to your friend's house on Saturday."
When you employ any of these tactics, keep in mind your goal, which is that the child contributes to the overall functioning of the household and that he learns to manage money. If you're not reaching these goals and power plays ensue, back off for a month or so, and ask your son for ideas as to how to proceed. Negotiate and compromise until you reach your parenting goal.
Remember also, when your son completes a task, offer your appreciation. Flattery gets you everywhere with kids.
Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of two parenting books, Mommy, I Have to Go Potty and Unplugging Power Struggles. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for HealthyKids.com, and a weekly parenting advice column in the Seattle Times newspaper. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.
Originally published on HealthyKids.com, September 2004.