Chores for pocket money: To use or not to use

In the past year my husband and I have been thinking whether or not we should make our twelve-year old son to earn his pocket money through chores. We have read quite some articles against this practice because it teaches children to do chores for the money instead of by making them learn about helping others and understand that everyone should make contributions to our family life.

On the other hand, we have also read articles which praises the effectiveness of chores for pocket money … that (at least!) it really gets the kids out of the couch and do something other than play video games and watch TV!

Now … our case is that our twelve years old only does his chores half-heartedly, with constant whining and complaining – usually around how tough his life is and how he doesn’t have time to do it, while his chores only include throwing away recyclables, helping to wash dishes, and occasionally walking to the grocery store across the street to pick up an item or two that we run out of in the middle of the week.

We have repeatedly reminded him (softly, firmly, half-threateningly, we’ve done it all!) that everyone has a role to play in the family, and that life isn’t all about doing what I want and what I feel like doing – it’s also about fulfilling tasks and responsibilities that we may not like, but necessary. He usually takes it in for a day or two, but eventually always regresses back to his whining old self after several days.

And we’ve had enough of it, so last week we decided that the only way he would learn is to take away his automatic $10-per week pocket money and make him do chores for the money.

However, we do want this lesson to be not purely about getting him to do the chores, but also to make him stop whining about chores and to make him do his responsibilities independently, without constant reminding.

So this is how we do it:

1. We make a list of RESPONSIBILITIES that he should do on regular basis. He doesn’t earn money for doing this, but he will lose points (or money … ) for not doing them. Responsibilities involves mainly cleaning up after himself and his area, such as putting his dirty laundry in the basket, putting out the extra mattress and bedding when his friend sleeps over, making his bed, and tidying up his games and the sofa after use. We discuss the responsibilities with him to make sure he agrees that the responsibilities are acceptable.

2. Then, we make a list of money-making CHORES. We divide his chores into two categories: REGULARS and ADDITIONALS. Regular chores involve things that he could do every day / week to earn a regular flow of pocket money. We agreed that his regular chores would be helping to wash dishes, set up the dining table and pour drinks for dinner, and throwing away the recyclables once a week. If he does this three, he will get his normal $10 a week.

We also list some additional chores that he could do that would earn him extra dollars. This include helping me cook from start to finish, shining his dad’s shoes, wash mom or dad’s bicycles, help wash the car, etc. These chores wouldn’t come regularly, but when they do come and he’s willing to do it, he gets beyond the normal $10 a week.

3. We laid the ground rules upfront to ensure that he understands the concept of responsibility, positive attitude and helping others without complaining. This includes:

– That he should do his responsibilities first, then chores

– If he is so focused about making money through the chores but forgetting his responsibilities (e.g. he forgets to submit a homework because he spent the previous evening shining his dad’s shoes for money), he gets point deductions instead of extra dollars –> again, stressing that this exercise is not about making money, but teaching responsibility and that everyone has a role in the family

– The whining and complaining must stop. If he doesn’t want to do the chores, he is not obliged to do it (but with some penalties involved :-). And if he agrees to do a money-making chore, but he does it with whining and complaining, we will stop him from the task and he doesn’t get extra dollar points. Again, this stresses that if he said he wants to help, he should help willingly, not with grumbling.

– Lastly, we told him that we don’t put a dollar amount for every single chore (e.g. we don’t say $2 for every pair of shoes, or $5 for washing the car) because there is an X factor (being his attitude) that comes into play. If he maintains a positive attitude throughout and doesn’t complain or ruin everyone else’s mood by doing it, he gets full point. That point will be taken away when the attitude is not right.

We keep notes of the chores that he does each week and whether or not his responsibilities are fulfilled. The notes for this week determines how much pocket money he gets for the following week.

Now, instead of complaining and having to be shouted at before he leaves his games to do chores, he now gets up from the sofa immediately when we offers him a chore. He now looks at his responsibility and chore list every day to make sure he’s done his responsibilities and daily chores before the day ends. And when he helps, he does it willingly – no complains, no conversation on “How much am I gonna get by doing it?”.

We have only done this for a week, so it is yet to be known if our “modified” chores-for-pocket-money program brings a lasting behavioral and attitude change in our son. But the signs have been encouraging, and we hope that at some point we would no longer need to induce him with money to do his chores – that he would just do his responsibilities and chores, knowing that we would be fair to him and fulfill his needs as part of our responsibilities as parents 🙂


3 thoughts on “Chores for pocket money: To use or not to use

  1. Hi there,
    I do like this post. It will be a help to me few years later.
    Do contact me when you’re free. Would like to have friend from the same country in Singapore..
    I’m an SAHM w/ 30 mos boy..

    1. Hi Mrs Lim – you can even start this chores for pocket money thingy when your boy is 3 years old. Just simple stuff like … being able to put on his own shoes and clothes, or putting away his toys after use. But instead of money (which they still have no concept of), you can use “good boy stickers” that they can collect and trade with gifts / toys.

  2. This is an interesting post. I have a 5yo who gets stickers after her chores, and I guess I just need to read another person’s successful experience with rewarding chores. Thank you.

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