Why we don’t pay our kids for doing chores….

We don’t pay our kids for doing chores.

That’s not to say that we don’t understand the idea of positive reinforcement.  When they were younger we had a “star chart” and gave them stars for good behavior and let them cash in stars for a trip for ice cream or such.

But as they’ve grown we’ve changed our outlook, and their’s, toward chores and rewards.  And here’s why.  

I love carpentry.  I enjoy the process of creating things that aren’t just useful, but beautiful.  I like to think about what I build being used and enjoyed after I’m gone.  And a few times in my life I’ve been paid to build things….And I was miserable because of it.  Doing what I loved as a job took all of the love out of it.  At the end of those jobs I didn’t feel a sense of accomplishment, I felt a sense of relief that it was over because I wasn’t enjoying what I was doing.  That’s the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation (being motivated internally, just WANTING to do it) is much more powerful than extrinsic motivation (being motivated externally, doing something for a reward).  For example, how many teenagers test grades have been ruined by playing video games rather than studying?  The extrinsic motivation (getting good grades, pleasing their parents) wasn’t as strong as the intrinsic motivation (doing what they enjoyed).

What we’re trying to do is make our boys intrinsically motivated to help around the house.  We want them to help us mow the yard, clean the house and take care of the dog because they enjoy the work and the sense of accomplishment from a job well done.  People yearn for that.  They desire facing a challenge and conquering it.  That challenge might be in the form of a video game or it can be in the form of a long to-do list, but the desire for accomplishment is undeniable.

Intrinsic motivation to do a good job and accomplish a goal lasts forever.  But extrinsic goals, by their very nature, are temporary.

If we pay our kids to do their chores, what happens when they don’t need the money anymore?  If they start getting paid $10 to mow the neighbor’s yard, why would they want to mow their own yard for $5?  The disparity in pay will result in a decreased motivation to mow their own yard.

What happens when you run out of money to give them?  The problem with extrinsic motivation is that once it’s offered, it can’t ever go away.  An employee who’s given a bonus for completing a task ahead of time once will expect that bonus EVERY time, and if that bonus isn’t offered anymore they won’t be motivated to complete a task early.  In both cases, their motivation to do a good job goes away.

Once a reward is offered, your relationship

to the task completely changes.

But intrinsic motivation lasts forever.  You don’t ever tire of doing the things you enjoy, or accomplishing goals you’ve set for yourself.  

So how do you get a child to enjoy doing the dishes or taking out the trash?  Well, honestly, I don’t know because we never tried to make the individual tasks enjoyable.  Instead, we lumped everything that we needed to do….mowing the yard, washing the car, doing the dishes, feeding the dog….all of those things were lumped into the category of “our chores”.

We don’t have anyone assigned to mow, or wash, or vacuum, or take out the trash.  When things need to get done, we all do them.  If they’re busy with homework, I take out the trash.  When they’ve got something exciting to do with friends, I don’t mind mowing the yard so that they can have fun.  But when I’m busy or tired or working long hours all of those things are taken care of by the boys.

We work together as a team to accomplish a goal….crazy concept for a family, right?

There’s obviously reward involved in all of this.  We do fun things together as a family, but the boys understand that we have fun together after we work together.  Let me give you an example of how that would look at our house.  Sometime this summer the boys will want to go to see a new movie in the theater.  So we’ll explain to them that I’m going to work a few extra hours to make the money to pay for the movie.  But since I’ll be at work longer and we’ll be at the movie for an afternoon on the weekend, they’re going to be responsible for getting the yard work done and their clothes ready for Sunday worship services ahead of time.  They’ll get the yard work done, have their clothes ready to be ironed, homework done early and make sure that the house is clean in time for us to leave for the movie.

They’re being rewarded AFTER completing their chores, but not BECAUSE they completed their chores.

Going to the movies is evidence that we appreciate what good kids they are, but it’s not the reason that they’re good kids.

We’re a family.  In our family everyone is expected to work hard to accomplish all that we have to do.  And because we all work hard, we all play hard and enjoy each other too.  That means that money will be spent on each other.  We believe in the principle of reaping what you sow.  If you work hard, you are rewarded.

I think this helps us to instill the right concept of money in the boys.  Money is necessary to function in this life.

Money helps us accomplish our goals, but money isn’t our goal.

And let’s be honest about what money does.  If we know that the love of money is the root of all evil, then why would we choose to motivate our children with it?  During the years when they form their personalities and opinions about life, why would we choose to make attaining money their goal?

Now let me clarify something.  I’m not opposed to giving your kids an allowance.  Teaching them to manage money and plan ahead is a good thing.  I think it’s a parent’s responsibility to give their kids the life skills they need to function as adults.  But I do believe that an allowance shouldn’t be tied directly to doing chores, it should be given to them as evidence that we appreciate that they’re good kids.  We’ve been blessed with good children who do what they can for us, we want to bless them with something that we have.

Kids having money can be a great thing.  It lets them build life skills and it gives them an opportunity to develop a benevolent character.  And kids definitely need to develop a strong work ethic.  But that doesn’t mean that we have to pay our kids to work around our house.

Teaching our children to be intrinsically motivated to work hard and appreciate a good day’s work is a far greater gift to give them than any amount of allowance.