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Should Parents Pay Children to do Household Chores?

By , March 1st, 2009 | 23 Comments »

My Dad was born into a different age. He had his first paying job when he was five years old. By the time he was ten, he had worked in a number of jobs, including work as a pin setter in a three lane bowling alley. At the age of twelve, he was the sole support of his family (two sisters, mother and sickly father) for a brief time, working almost full time in a bakery before and after school. America was in the midst of the Great Depression in those years and he felt fortunate to be able to work.

I was born forty years after my Dad. I enjoyed relative comfort as a child. My Dad earned a steady living as a dentist and he could have provided my brother and I with most comforts that we might want. My Dad understood, however, that my brother and I needed to learn how to work and to contribute to a household because we were part of it. I held paper routes when I was in elementary school, went door to door with a friend and offered to rake leaves and shovel driveways, and generally found ways to earn money. By the time I was 15, I had a “real” job, setting up function halls on weekend mornings, walking two miles at 5am in order to get to work. At 16, I was working twenty-plus hours per week in a pharmacy.

Despite working hard, both at school and at my job, I also found time to contribute at home. I did the laundry, washed dishes and mowed the lawn. I did a lot of household chores, and I did them because they needed to be done – not because I felt I should be paid. Like my Dad, I was not afraid of hard work or making a contribution to my home.

I now have a son in high school. Despite years of giving him chores to do, he has consistently found ways to get out of doing them, or he does them so poorly that it takes more time to fix his mistakes than it would have if I had done the job myself. I have asked him to do the work, required him to do the work and taken away privileges for not doing the work. Nothing I have done has given him an incentive to contribute. Now my wife wants me to pay him to do the work.

I just can’t do it.

My wife and I give our son a lot of money, when it makes sense to do so. He wants to go on a cruise this summer with the family of one of his friends. My wife and I are allowing it and paying $500 of the $650 cost. My son admittedly needs to contribute $150 of the cost, but I don’t think that is unreasonable for a young man of nearly 16, who does have plenty of local job opportunities.

Last summer, we spent almost $3,000 so that he could go away to study for the summer, as part of a program that he wanted to attend. My wife and I do not go on vacations because money is tight, but we find a way to pay for things that will benefit our children.

So that gets me back to paying my son for chores. I just can’t do it. If he wants to benefit from living in our home, he needs to learn to contribute to it as well. Doing work because it needs to be done has to be a reward in and of itself. I try to explain that to my son but he just does not get it. In his view, avoiding work is its own reward and, unless he is paid well to do something, he does not have any incentive to contribute.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I have offered my son money to do chores that go above and beyond the call of duty. Over his Christmas break from school (17 days), I offered him $100 to pressure wash my driveway – a chore that would have taken him about a day. He declined because the money was insufficient and because he did not want to give up a day. Shortly thereafter, a professional pressure washer offered to pressure wash my driveway and my deck for $100. My son did not see the irony when I told him.

What do you think? Should parents pay their children to do household chores? Is it necessary to compensate a child for making his bed, for taking out the trash or for doing the dishes? Do kids benefit from learning how to do the simple chores of life that we all take for granted? Should some chores be expected and others require compensation?

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  • When I was a kid I was given an allowance BUT only if I did all the chores properly. If they weren’t done right then no money.

    So I am not sure if that qualifies as being paid to do chores. Certainly, I was paid to extra work on my parents house such as painting, although nothing like $100.day.

    I know when I was a kid I would have jumped at the chance to make $100 to power wash a driveway. Compared to most chores power washing stuff is pretty fun.

  • Jay Gatsby says:

    This will be hard for you to hear. You’re blaming your son for his laziness, but you’re the one who created this problem. Your son is like drug addict or alcoholic. You enabled his habit, which in this case is laziness/apathy towards work.

    How did you enable him? By your own admission:

    “My wife and I give our son a lot of money….” (the “when it makes sense to do so” is a weak excuse).

    “He wants to go on a cruise this summer with the family of one of his friends. My wife and I are allowing it and paying $500 of the $650 cost.”

    “Last summer, we spent almost $3,000 so that he could go away to study for the summer, as part of a program that he wanted to attend.”

    While you say that “If he wants to benefit from living in our home, he needs to learn to contribute to it as well,” the foregoing actions SAY THE EXACT OPPOSITE. You’ve basically given him everything for free without having to anything, and you even let him get away with doing a poor job on those things he actually did.

    Now how do you solve this problem? You’re not going to do so without a fight with your son. He needs to learn discipline, and this will be more difficult for him (and you) at the mature age of 15 than if you had started when he was far younger (as your own father did with you).

    The first thing I would do is to change the terms of your offer to pay for the cruise. Notice I didn’t say that you shouldn’t pay for the cruise. Rather, I want you to tell your son that based on his unwillingness to help around the house without being paid a handsome wage (or to even do a good job when he actually does something), you don’t see the point in giving him a paid vacation. Paid vacations are what employees get for doing a good job. Since he won’t do a good job (or any job for that matter), then he doesn’t get a paid vacation. However, if he is willing to do chores around the house, and they meet a reasonable level of performance, you’ll pay the $500 towards the cruise. If he balks, then YOU MUST HOLD THE LINE. He’ll accuse you of going back on your deal, being unfair, etc… Don’t react to these accusations. Just let him rant (he’ll need to get it out of his system). When he sees that you’re not going to give in, he’ll stalk away to his room and slam the door, or he’ll go running to his friend’s house to break the bad news and tell his friend how unfair you’re being. Again, just let this happen. He needs to come to the realization on his own that he can get what he wants, but he’s going to have to do it your way.

    In sum, you need to retrain your son from being a lazy young man into a productive one who takes pride in his work/accomplishments. You can’t force him to make this transformation, but you can guide him through the process by giving him a Hobson’s Choice (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hobson's_choice) whenever he wants something from you.

    One more thought. You and your wife MUST BE ON THE SAME PAGE. Right now you’re not. This means you must sit down with her before you start trying to retrain your son. Otherwise, he’ll go running to her and she’ll undermine your efforts by telling him that she’ll get you to change your mind.

  • Mr. GoTo says:

    I have raised three sons. The youngest is 20 and in college. In my humble opinion, you, your wife, and your son need an intervention on the issues of work and responsibility. Without going into a lot of detail, your son has apparently acquired a sense of entitlement, spurred on by your tolerance and enablement of it. You need to do something now that allows your son to understand that there is a relationship between hard work, income, and success. There is still time to do this but you had better get busy before he starts driving. Good luck.

  • nanamom says:

    I have to agree that you need to do something now before it is too late. When you were a kid did you get to do fun vacations if you didn’t help out? I have a 4 and 5 year old and I insist they help with chores. That and their attitude determines what “fun ” activities I am willing to allow. When they are teens I expect them to earn their money while still doing their chores. I admit they get an allowance but it is based on school performance. I also give my grandkids money based on school performance. When they visit they pitch in with the chores as well.

  • Cana says:

    I think to teach teens the responsibility is very important. Although sometimes parents use money to motivate their teens to work on some chores. I do not think it works for a relatively long time.

  • Miranda says:

    We were not paid for chores. We expected to do them — properly — as part of the family. My son helps out with age-appropriate chores, without being paid for them. Until we were 16, we received a modest allowance and taught to save it and pay some to our church. At 16, we were expected to get a part-time job. And, because our allowances were modest, the job paid more. But we still always had to do chores. And my parents made it clear that if we couldn’t perform our home duties, maybe we didn’t need a part-time job after all — or extra activities.

    My parents had a set amount they would pay for extracurricular school related activities, and we made up the difference. My parents also taught us to look for scholarship opportunities along the way. When I wanted to go a foreign exchange, they told me how much they would pay (2/3), and I had to come up with the rest. Since I did it through 4-H, I was able to get some of the money in other ways, and I did extra work to pay for my portion of the trip.

    Your son has an obvious feeling of entitlement. He is the embodiment of a great deal of what’s wrong in finance. I must say, I completely agree with Jay on this one.

  • jackie says:

    Oddly enough, I have this dilemma going on currently with my stepson, age 8. We started with an allowance based on chores but immediately stopped all allowance when he informed us that he would only empty the dishwasher if he was paid for it. Since then, he is forced to do all the chores he was paid for but this time without pay. Helping around the house is not optional. Sadly, I honestly don’t think he will ever get an allowance because he is quick to feel entitled to any extras we provide him.

  • Pev says:

    I think it is a very good idea to pay children to do household chores. My parents did it to me, and I think by doing so it taught me the meaning of hard earn money. This attitude motivated me to work hard. I’m 25 years old rt now and I’ve been working since I was 15.

  • Human One says:


    I once heard of a great system for younger children. At the beginning of the month or week issue them poker chips. A chip being equal to a dollar.

    They get to hold on to the chips, they lose one or all they lose the worth of that chip.

    They have a list of chores, with deadlines and expectations. If those deadlines or clear expectations are not met then they have to give up a chip or the amount of chips that chore was worth.

    At the end of the week or month, the remaining chips are “cashed in” and a day later new chips are issued.

    The idea here is they have to give something up, something they already possess which is harder for them than simply subtracting it along the way. Easy come easy go just doesn’t cut it when they have a big stack of chips.

    The principle works with all of us too! We are all on the flip side of this program with how we are taxed. It’s taken out up front so we do not feel the sting of having to give it up at the end of the month for if we had to cut a check for what we actually pay in taxes we would all be outraged and be running folks out of DC on a rail.

    So everything is buried into what we make and what we buy so we don’t feel the sting.

    This is nothing more than doing the opposite, and make it so the sting is felt at the time the chip(s) are surrendered.

    I don’t think this is going to work for the lazy teenager tho, kick him out of the house, I was on my own making rent at 17. That will end his fantasy quick, sure took some wind out of my sail!

  • JC says:

    When I grew up, my parents gave me lunch money and a few extra for doing work. I don’t think parents should bribe their children to do work with money. By doing so, the child will not be working because he feels an obligation to help out in the family. He’ll become spoiled and won’t learn about earning money the hard way. A cruise? No way. My parents only gave me money for trip expenses for national contests. Spoil them with money and they will not know how to wisely manage money.

  • Jorge says:

    Hmmm…seems like something this definitely not working quite right. For our kids, who are just 8 and 6 now, we pay them a weekly allowance so that they learn how to handle money responsibly. They must donate 10%, Save 10%, Invest 10% and can spend the remaining 70%. We pay them for chores that are above and beyond the call of duty. Yesterday I paid my 6 year old $0.50 to sweep out the garage for example.

    Here’s my two-cents on your situation. If you stop giving him any money, I’m guessing he’ll want to start doing chores around the house!

    Good luck.

  • David G. Mitchell says:

    It is true that the pen is mightier than the sword. I had my son read all of the comments on this article and he felt that he needed to improve his image (since people he knows read the articles too). He spent several hours working in the yard yesterday and several hours cleaning the garage today. Thanks to all who commented, as the power of public opinion can do wonders to sway the mind of a teen!

  • Wendy says:

    I have to agree with others that you have allowed your son’s laziness by enabling his habit. And I agree because I did the same with my now 13 year old. Are finances are tight, but I always found the money for the things he wanted to do (camps, trips, etc). I do make him pay for anything he wants beyond birthday and holiday gifts, but because his grandparents give him a good amount of money for the holidays he hasn’t felt the pinch.

    I do believe in giving kids a small allowance. And I believe that chores are a part of just being a member of the family. He does get his allowance withheld if he refuses to do his chores, so in a way you could say that I pay for his chores.

    But if there is something that he wants to buy and he hasn’t saved the money I do let him do extra things for extra money, and then I pay according to how well he has done it. BUT I will only do that if it is something that I would really pay an outsider to do for me. Not something like doing his own laundry or cleaning his own room (things he should be doing himself anyway).

    But if he will wash and vaccum my car and save me the $10 for taking it to the carwash I will give him an additional $5 toward his goal ($5 instead of $10 because he doesn’t do as good a job as the carwash place – if he did I’d pay the same).

    Right now he is saving up to buy a drum set off of a friend for $300 – he’s $100 toward his goal. I told him that if he would do a FULL spring cleanup in our yard, and save me hiring the lawn service to do it, I would pay him $100 (the extra that they charge me in the beginning of the season). He did SOME this weekend. It was not to my specifications, and I knew that the lawn service would still charge me. He has not yet earned his money. He growled and grumbled over the unfairness of it. But he still owes me several hours of work before I will consider the job done.

    He’s not happy. But guess what? That’s life. You do a crappy job you don’t get paid.

    Now my kid is 13, not old enough for an outside of the house job. But he’s already getting the picture that it will be much easier to earn money when he’s old enough to work a steady job for a steady rate.

    I say stick to your guns. Don’t pay for regular chores, but consider other jobs around the house that he could do, which would save you time or money (clean out the garage? Mow the lawn?). Maybe you’d feel more comfortable if it was paying for extras that he doesn’t regularly do.

  • David G. Mitchell says:

    Wendy — Thanks for a great post! I actually try to employ the approach that you describe — I will pay him for extras. I also volunteer as a youth sports umpire and have offered to pay him to umpire with me (because it is much easier with two people). Your approach is spot on!

    Interestingly enough, my younger son has picked up on my older son’s laziness and tries to earn as much money as possible just so that he can have cash when he needs it later on. He then invests his money in CDs so that he cannot get to it now. As he put it, “if [he] always puts money in CDs, [he] only has to resist temptation every year or so!”

  • Persephone says:

    I have a similar issue with one of my children. I have tried to instill the notion that hard work is the way to make money. The problem I face is that my teenager has affluent friends whose parents give them large amounts of spending money. When I withhold money from my teenager for failure to perform obligations, my teenager doesn’t truly feel the repercussions because his friends give him money. No matter how low he is on money, he can lunch at the country club and golf, for example, all on the tab of his friends’ parents.

  • spicoli says:

    I think children should be forced to do work around the house but only small helpful things like doing the dishes or cleaning their room.

    I think that anything strenous or time consuming like yard work or a full house clean does deserve some reward considering the child’s main job is going to school and getting good grades.

  • Ann says:

    When I was little, I only got my (very small) allowance if I did all of my chores in a manner that passed parental inspecton! I remember being able to earn extra money by polishing my dad’s shoes or for things like picking rocks out of the yard, when we bought a new house and my dad wanted to get the yard ready for seeding. I also made extra money by subbing for my brother on his paper route.

    When I got to be 12, I started babysitting (and still had to do my chores) and, when I was fifteen, my father insisted I get a parttime job — after school and weekends at a hardware store. That one rather annoyed me ’cause it paid less than the babysitting! LOL But Dad said that I had to learn what it was like to show up for work whether I wanted to or not and have to do what an employer told me to… whether I wanted to or not. It had the added advantage of making me realize that I did not want to spend my life with that kind of a job.

    I agree with the others about you being too soft on your son. I was in an advanced program and participated in clubs and still managed to do my chores (my mother literally did a white glove inspection of any cleaning) and have a part-time job. I certainly wouldn’t “reward” his behavior by paying as much as you are for him to go on a cruise!

    I tended to be a bit more like your younger son… as a matter of fact, I used to lend money to my older brother and even occasionally my mom! 🙂

    Also, although getting a good education is important, he needs to learn that that and a buck (or more) will simply get you a cup of coffee, not a job, if he’s unwilling to work.

    I don’t envy you!

  • brendan says:

    hi, i am a 15 year old boy that gets paid for doing my chores. I am going to tell you how my dad pays me.

    I wash dishes, mow the lawn (or shovel snow depending on the season), change the cat’s litter box, feed the cat, & take out the trash. All for $20 a week, but i must buy my own lunch at school, which leaves me with around $7-8.

    When i was younger, i had less chores, and less money – $5, to do simple chores like mow the lawn, and take out the trash. He added chores, and i got more allowance. I believe this was a very good method, because it didnt load me down.

    I would recomend you start simple like just mowing the grass for $5 a week. Then add more and more chores as weeks go bye. I think once you son can save up money and actually buy something, he will feel happy that he did his chores.

  • Chadder says:

    I, too, faced a lot of problems making them do the basic picking up after them jobs. I was yelling myself hoarse just to pick up their toys after they finished playing with them. It was easier to do it myself. But when will they learn?
    It was then that I started out on the net. I came across the chore charts. I then planned a little bit. I asked each of my daughters to chose their favorite design (they chose from kidrewardzone) and took a print. I would use a star for each chore done and a minus for a negative behavior like tantrums, untidy rooms, etc. A coin(money) would correspond each star and a coin would be removed for a minus. They did not like the minuses, when they got them initially. Slowly, it came down considerably. They try to get full 10 points and the corresponding money, too. Now, to my surprise, they now understand the concept of money and time too!!!

  • Lianna says:

    No you should not have to pay your son an allowance for doing household chores. Do you get paid to do everyday things around the house? He should feel lucky to have a roof over his head, a meal is his tummy, and parents that give love him, and pay for opportunities to advance scholastically. The cruse, well that is a luxury. Maybe only match what he can earn for himself. He is old enough to hold a job, s you said. Also if he doesn’t learn the value of money now, chances are he probably never will.

  • jeff says:

    Should your child have to pay an income tax for his/her allowance?


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