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Cash for chores? There's a better way to teach kids responsibility

Amy McCready, author of "If I Have to Tell You One More Time," and adolescent psychologist Jennifer Hartstein offer tips on how to stop your kids from believing they always deserve special treatment.

Join Amy McCready for a discussion about how to avoid raising entitled kids on our Facebook page today. Bring your questions! (And answers, if you have them.)

Do you ever get the feeling that some kids are born with their hand out?  While the average person is working harder for less, it seems many kids have missed the memo and are demanding more than ever.

From reality stars – famous only for being famous – to websites like “Rich Kids of Instagram,” our kids are bombarded with the message that the cool thing is getting whatever you want and getting it now, and shirking responsibility at all costs.

What’s going on? Most parents require kids to do chores, and many pay them through an allowance. So why aren’t kids learning the value of a dollar, and why is it so hard to get them to help out around the house?

The answer may surprise you — but with one simple fix, your kids will learn to budget their own money and pitch in around the house without whining. Read on for your guide to getting kids to cooperate and losing the sense of entitlement for good.

The parenting price-tag

While many parents make a genuine effort to help kids learn personal and financial responsibility by offering an allowance for household chores, this system is at the heart of the entitlement problem.  When money becomes a reward for setting the table or mowing the lawn, it leaves kids thinking “what’s in it for me?” every time they are asked to help out.

Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, puts it this way: “By linking money to the completion of chores, parents turn an allowance into an ‘if- then’ reward. This sends kids a clear (and clearly wrongheaded) message: In the absence of a payment, no self-respecting child would willingly set the table, empty the garbage, or make her own bed.”

But the world-weary parent can rest assured.  The answer is in supplying an allowance and having the kids helping out around the house; they just don’t belong together.

The solution, part 1:  Fit in family contributions

Yes, your kids need to complete tasks around the house. But before you do anything else, change how you talk about them. The word “chore” conjures images of kids scrubbing floors or arguing over whose turn it is to take out the trash. Switching it to “family contribution” reminds all involved that these day-to-day tasks are part of what keeps the household running, so everyone can enjoy its benefits. While swapping the words probably won’t have little Alex ecstatic about setting the table, it will go a long way in helping him understand the value of his action.

But even the most cooperative kids will need a little more motivation.  Employ “when-then” routines to help them prioritize their family contributions over playtime.  When the living room is vacuumed, then you can enjoy your computer time. 

If you have trouble with family contributions remaining incomplete, use consequences—just make sure they’re related, reasonable, revealed in advance, and respectful.  Let your child know up front that if he doesn’t clean his room every Saturday, you will show up with a cardboard box and do the job for him—storing anything left out in the closet for a week.

The solution, part 2:  Allow an allowance

Yes, your kids should receive an allowance—but it should not be tied to performance of any kind. Instead, set a budget-friendly and age-appropriate amount for your child to receive on a regular basis, independent of whether or not she aces a test or sweeps the floor. An allowance is a teaching tool, not a motivator.

And never has a parenting lesson been such a win-win for all parties involved.  Beyond getting to be the good guy who enables them to save for that video game (instead of the mean parent who won’t buy it), Mom and Dad will  help their children feel more trusted and grown up than before, all while teaching life lessons about budgeting and delayed gratification. Take that, Rich Kids of Instagram.

Keep these thoughts in mind:

With allowance comes responsibility.  When kids receive an allowance, they should also know what expenses they have to cover with it—from toys to movie tickets to iTunes downloads.

As kids get older, allowance increases as do the expenses for which they are responsible  - this teaches kids to budget their money.  They should have ample money to cover the expenses they are assigned and save for bigger purchases, but not so much money that they can buy everything that catches their eye.

Spending money is not a free-for-all.  Parents should help kids set up savings accounts for their money, as well as encourage charitable contributions.

Let your kids learn from their mistakes.  If, despite your advice, Sophie decides to buy a glittery cell phone case today instead of the concert tickets she’s been talking about for weeks, let her.  But when the concert weekend comes and she’s whining about not being at the show with her friends, don’t give in by spotting her the extra twenty.  Next time—and down the road—she’ll think more carefully about her purchases.

Family contributions and allowance are two powerful – yet separate - ways that parents can make a lasting impact on their child.  Use these tools to implement them within your family, taking care to let each teach its own lessons, and you will be well on your way to raising responsible and un-entitled kids.

Parenting expert Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the author of If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling.  For easy to implement strategies for happy families and well-behaved kids, follow Positive Parenting Solutions on Facebook.

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