Do I Need to Give My Kids an Allowance?

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

My oldest child is 7, and many of his friends receive an allowance from their parents for doing chores around the house. I never gave the idea of an allowance much thought, as I didn’t receive an allowance for chores as a kid and don’t personally feel it’s necessary. But seeing his peers spend money and buy things for themselves (nothing major, just small toys or candy) makes my son want the same freedom. Plus, I’m facing a shocking amount of criticism from other parents in my son’s friend circle. I had no idea this was such a contentious issue! Those parents all say that giving an allowance teaches kids the importance of earning money through hard work, as well as the value of saving money, spending it wisely, etc.

Of course, like any parent, I do see the merit of providing an incentive for tasks, especially when so often it’s like pulling teeth to even get them to put a dish in the sink. But I also feel strongly that chores are not the type of labor that deserves a reward, since contributing to household duties is something they will have to do their whole lives without compensation. In many ways, I feel like offering an allowance is instilling in them the idea that they’re entitled to payment for doing chores that are not above and beyond the scope of expected responsibilities.

Is there an argument for or against an allowance from a long-term mental health standpoint? Or is there a certain age when it’s better to introduce an allowance system? I know in the grand scheme of parenting the issue of an allowance, either issued or withheld, probably will not “make or break” a kid. Just curious whether you have any insights about lasting lessons a child might learn one way or the other. Thanks! —Raincheck, Please

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Dear Raincheck,

This is such a great parenting question!

The first part I’d like to address is the criticism you are getting from peers. You are entitled to make parenting choices that work for you and your family that are aligned with your family’s unique values. The judgment you are feeling from the other parents is unfortunate—and ultimately their issue, not yours.

I’d also like to separate the two issues of chores and allowance. Chores are great for kids, assuming they are age-appropriate. They teach competence, life skills, and the importance of contributing to the family (something that combats entitlement and enhances gratitude). It is absolutely okay to expect your children, even as young as 3 or 4, to contribute to the household by picking up, feeding animals, setting and clearing the table, and other achievable tasks.

You are also correct that combining allowance and chores can be problematic. It shifts the focus from contributing to the family as an expectation, or social relationship, to a fee for service, or business relationship. What happens if your child feels he doesn’t need the money? Does that excuse him from feeding the dog? Combining the two also runs the risk of fostering a sense of entitlement—I’ve heard many kids, when asked to do something for their parents, ask, “What will you give me?” If they have been trained to believe task equals payment, this reaction is to be expected.

The allowance does not have to be exorbitant. It does not need to match what your child’s peers are getting. There will be plenty of times over the course of your parenting life when your children will compare their treatment to that of their peers (today, allowance—soon, phones and cars). You are under no obligation to match what their peers or peers’ parents are doing.

An allowance, however, is also pretty terrific for children. It teaches them the value of money. It gives them some independence. It allows them to contribute financially to gifts for friends or family and feel some pride and ownership. It also encourages them to learn about decision-making and delayed gratification. If they want a toy that costs $15, do they want to spend their savings on trinkets that cost $2,if they know it will delay their ultimate goal?

Allowances also encourage conversations about values. Some parents set up a system by which kids put money in spend-save-share jars. The share part is for donating to a cause of their choice. If that is something you want to encourage, there’s no better way to teach that lesson than having them involved in deciding what to give and to whom.

The allowance does not have to be exorbitant. It does not need to match what your child’s peers are getting. There will be plenty of times over the course of your parenting life when your children will compare their treatment to that of their peers (today, allowance—soon, phones and cars). You are under no obligation to match what their peers or peers’ parents are doing. However, conversations with your children about why you are making the decisions you are making will help them develop a keener understanding of your family values and priorities.

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I hear your struggle with incentivizing chores. Some parents choose to make chores a basic expectation (this is what we do). Failing to meet those expectations results in losses of privileges (screen time, dessert, play dates, etc.). There are also ways to encourage chores by instilling in your children a sense of pride of accomplishment. Letting my son hear me brag to friends and family about how well he did his “jobs” without prompting has accomplished far more than any sticker chart or reward system ever did.

You are right that this is not a “make-or-break” kind of parenting decision. It is, however, a tremendous opportunity to intentionally foster the skills and values you hope your children will possess as adults. If you want to read more about this topic, there’s a fantastic book by Ron Lieber called The Opposite of Spoiled. It delves into all of this and more and is incredibly informative and accessible.

Best of luck,

Erika

Erika Myers
Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC is a licensed psychotherapist and former educator specializing in working with families in transition (often due to separation or divorce) as well as individuals seeking support with relationship issues, parenting, depression, anxiety, grief/loss/bereavement, and managing major life changes. Although her theoretical orientation is eclectic, she most frequently uses a person-centered, strengths-based approach and cognitive behavioral therapy in her practice.
  • 6 comments
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  • andrea

    andrea

    December 3rd, 2016 at 8:44 AM

    In my house it has begun to teach them money doesn’t grow on trees, that you have to do some work to get paid, and that they have to save up for the things that they really want.
    Their needs? My responsibility. But many of their wants? That’s all based on whether they do what they are supposed to do to help out around the house.

  • Paul

    Paul

    December 5th, 2016 at 10:35 AM

    My parents were always like, I feed you, I clothe you, I shelter you. That’s your allowance.

  • Gabby P

    Gabby P

    December 5th, 2016 at 12:36 PM

    We waffled back and forth about what to do about the whole allowance thing and in the end we decided that it would be good for the kids to see that they do some extra work around the house, you get paid extra money. You sit around and do nothing but breathe and eat our food, then we give you what we require by law, but nothing more.
    I think that with our older kids especially it has been a real motivator because they never want to sit around the house with us over the weekend but without spending money they don’t have very little choice.
    For us it has been a winning situation, but I think that you have to clearly write down what your expectations are because believe me, they will do as little as possible and hope for as much as possible in return.

  • Matt

    Matt

    December 7th, 2016 at 9:43 AM

    If they are good kids, then why not reward them a little?

  • Andrea

    Andrea

    December 15th, 2016 at 10:32 AM

    A lot of what I give to the kids depends on them and how much they have helped me out during the week.’If they have done very little then why reward them? But on the other hand if they did some things around the house or cooked dinner and I didn’t have to ask, I get paid for my hard work so I think that can be a valuable lesson to teach them too.
    I don’t think that they ever expect it and I don’t ever feel obligated so it’s a system that works out pretty well for us.

  • julian

    julian

    December 31st, 2016 at 1:17 PM

    I don’ t believe you just have to give it to them. But if they want to do some things around the house to earn some money then I don’t really see a problem with that.

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