June 06, 2022

To Pay or Not to Pay: Should We Reward Children with Money for Chores?

By: Sirsa Qursha, Child Development and Parenting Specialist

We shouldn’t underestimate children. They are capable of doing so much, even from a very young age. Also, there are so many benefits to having them participate in work around the house. 

Research shows that children who complete household chores have higher self-esteem, become more responsible, and learn how to deal with frustration. They also turn into empathic and independent adults.

 

The question is: should we reward children with money for completing chores? 

There are those who believe that children shouldn’t be paid to do chores, since they are members of the family and every member of that family is expected to contribute to the home. Others believe that when children “earn” money for chores, it helps them to understand the value of money, preparing them for future employability.

 

The key is balance, or what some researchers call a “hybrid approach”.

There are benefits of using rewards with children on some but not all chores. For example, children shouldn’t get rewarded daily for something like putting their dirty plate in the sink after lunch, since you may find it’s simply their responsibility to do so. 

If we do decide to use rewards for chores, it is important to build a sense of competence in children, one that is driven by intrinsic (or internal) motivation, not dependent on things like money, gifts, or other privileges, as opposed to just relying on extrinsic motivation, where children only do something because they are being rewarded for it or punished for not doing it through thing; like not allowing them screen time for the day.

   

The Case for Cash Rewards:

There are a few things we need to consider as we decide to reward chores: the age and ability of the child, how division of chores happens in that household, or family circumstances like whether the child is being raised by a single mom that needs more help with chores etc. So, it becomes important to look at the specific needs related to the chore itself as well as the child’s ability to complete them. 

Paying children for chores can have its benefits, particularly in teaching children the value of money. However, in order for these benefits to “stick,” there are some “rules” we as parents should follow.

First, there needs to be clear communication about what the chores are and how the rewards will happen. For example, if a child is asked to load dishes in a dishwasher every night after dinner, then he can use the iPad that evening or receive a monetary reward at the end of the week. If a child is asked to sort laundry a few times a week then she is rewarded with an outing with mom or dad over the weekend or can receive cash once she’s done. 

Think through the chores you assign your children – which ones should be rewarded right away? Which should be rewarded over time? Most likely the bigger, “one-off” chores you can pay them for right away, and those that are more common you can do weekly, for example.

What is now important to consider is: how do we motivate children to do the things they need to do, and, if rewards are given, we need to understand the how, when, and what.

How do we get children to do chores?

Behavioral change takes place when two things happen: consistency and application- or doing something the same way every time. 

Forget me not

One of the things you can do is to remind children of their chores every day; or use visual charts and lists that can help children keep track of what they need to do! This is how we create habits. Once those habits are in place you won’t have to remind them daily. 

We are family

Make your child feel valued by explaining how they are contributing to the family; this helps children develop intrinsic motivation and highlights the fact that everyone contributes to the household. Children love to feel a connection to their families and take pride in what they do; you pointing out how their contribution impacts family life will contribute to their sense of accomplishment; whether it’s how they help make a family meal or make sure the family pet is fed, it’s important to point out their role within the home. 

Spell it out

Make sure they know what exactly is expected of them! For example, tidying their room doesn’t mean shoving things in a closet, and making their bed means doing it as soon as they get out of it, not later in the day. 

A dash of fun

Chores don’t have to be boring… infuse play! If you’re asking your child to clean up the playroom, turn it into a game and see who can finish faster. When children are having fun, not only do tasks get done better,  but it also contributes to a stronger connection with your little ones.

 

When should we start giving chores and rewarding them?

Children can start doing simple basic household tasks at the age of three, such as putting toys and books away and putting clothes in the laundry basket. If you have older children, it’s not too late to start now. Find chores that interest them and make sure they are age appropriate. The younger we engage children in chores, the more likely they will continue to contribute to these chores as they develop over the years.

What chores should be rewarded?

The chores a parent wants to reward the child for with money will differ from family to family depending on what they believe family contribution is. It can also differ between siblings depending on what skills or behaviors parents wish to focus on. For example, Sarah may not be rewarded for making her bed every day, yet her brother Samir may need to be rewarded for his bed making capability as it may be contributing to the development of his specific skill set. 

At the end of the day, it is up to you to choose what works for you and your family and how you want to reward your children for chores, whether it’s with cash, gifts, praise, experiences, or privileges. 

 Don’t forget the power of praise!

Praising can be very effective in creating good habits of chore completion and in building intrinsic motivation regardless of the rewards. However, be sure to praise the process and a child’s attempts, not just the end result. Regardless of how well your child sets the dinner table, highlight their effort and dedication to the task, not just how the table looks in the end. This helps develop intrinsic motivation and teaches the child to look within his/her own capabilities. 

It’s important to remember children do care how their parents view them. Children want to meet the expectations of their parents and they also love to showcase their own sense of mastery. With patience, consistency and playfulness children will learn how to complete chores independently, with rewards, and well. Enjoy the process!

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