Recently, a household was inundated with crickets. The creative and slightly frantic work-at-home mother made a “Pay for Chores” sign for the refrigerator: “Wanted: Cricket Hunters to smash, smoosh, decimate, obliterate, kill crickets. Pay is 5 cents per dead cricket. Job involves disposing of dead cricket in trash can. This job is open until crickets are gone.”
Amazingly, she had no takers. So she changed tactics. Sensing that the children did not want to harm the crickets, or deal with the carnage, she brought out the vacuum cleaner. The middle child – happy as ever to spend time with her mother – volunteered to suck up crickets while the mother moved things around to expose their hiding places.
This is a great example of how a parent can use chores to encourage children to work. Although money is a great motivator for children’s chores, it is not the only reward children value. Your goal as a parent should be to teach your children to be independent (support themselves through earning money), as well as helpful members of society (a sense of fulfillment by volunteering or helping friends and relatives).
Before children learn the lessons of working for money, they should learn to be responsible family members. In middle class America and other societies, the family works together to make a house a home. Everyone helps, even toddlers, who can empty small trash cans. The kids may complain about it, but parents should maintain a “this is the way our family operates” attitude. Chores should be assigned, completed, and inspected. Kids should not be paid for regular household chores.
To be fair, rotate chores, if everyone is equally competent. To make it a little more fun, rotate the job of Chore Inspector. Kids can be just as picky as Mom or Dad, and they will learn the importance of quality workmanship.
Working for Wages
A child will only be motivated by money if he feels a need for it. If the goal is to teach him the value of work and money, do not give him everything he could possibly want. Let him earn some of the goodies he craves.
Once the children have their chores down pat and are somewhat dependable, they are eligible for paid positions. The parent can post these positions, the terms, and the wages somewhere in the house, or they can announce job openings during a family meal.
Parents should decide whether they will offer paid jobs as ongoing work or on a contract basis when a child wants to earn cash. Ideas for ongoing or contract jobs include:
Crushing aluminum cans for recycling
Help with a home improvement project, such as scraping paint
What’s a Fair Wage for Children?
It’s best to pay enough to encourage children to try, but not quite as much as one would pay another adult doing the same job. Children are learning on the job, like an apprenticeship. Another option is to set a goal of certain pay scale levels depending on the age and how well the child performs the job. If the child does the job as well as an adult, he deserves to be paid for it.
Use a notebook or a software spreadsheet to set up accounts for each child. After each child finishes a job, record the payment in the account. Payment can be made immediately, or kept in the account until “payday.”
Keeping an account like this is handy for those times when the child becomes indebted to society. Library fines or broken windows can be paid from his account. Pay his debt if his account is empty, but put his account in the red until he works it off. It’s a great way to teach responsibility and carefulness.
Young children often don’t care about money. They would rather play. Young children, up until the age of about six or seven, see some types of work as play. It is a novelty to them, and makes them feel bigger when they do something they see their parents doing. Parents are wise to take advantage of this narrow window to prove to their kids that work can be fun.
A boy asked his mother if she wanted to play store. She was in the middle of a project, and any other day she might have said, “Not now, I’m busy.” But she happened to need a shelf full of canned goods moved to another room. She agreed, but explained that playing store would be a little different than what he had in mind.
“We can play that we are setting up a store. I’ll hire you to help.”
“Am I getting paid?” he asked, latching on to that word, “hire.”
“No,” his mother said. “Not this time because we’re playing.”
“Okay,” he said. “Can we pretend you will pay me something?”
The mother used real-world figures to decide his payment. She also gave him job titles. First, he was a carpenter. He used a drill to remove screws. Then he was the manager in charge of purchasing for the new store. He took the dry goods off the shelf and put them in a laundry basket, then took them to the new location. Finally he was a stock boy, and organized the items on the newly-installed shelves. For each job he was “paid” a different wage: $10/hour for carpentry, $15/hour for purchasing, and $8/hour for stocking. When they finished the job, the imaginary paycheck was delivered. They both went away happy.
Training children to work is seldom so easy, or convenient, but it pays off dividends in character. Children may go on to universities and high-paying jobs and theoretically hire out their household chores, but learning to work early in life is a lesson that no ivy-league degree or cushy corporate job can provide. Yes, work can be hard and is often boring, but kids learn other life lessons along the way: discipline, thoroughness, team work, responsibility, and that really crucial one – independence. The child who learns to work is the child who will have the confidence to try other, new, and seemingly very difficult things.