Clean My Room? Sure. But Only if You Pay Me

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I have very different opinions about bribing our children. She wants to reward everything they do, from getting good grades at school to cleaning their rooms, with some sort of treat. This can be money, a special toy, or whatever. I say that the kids should learn that an achievement, like grades, should be its own reward. What do you think?

A: In last week’s column I raised the issue of paying kids do certain chores and I got a lot of emails—about half thought that was a good idea, half didn’t. I hate to say it, but there is no absolute right and wrong here. But I should have made a clearer distinction between bribing children and rewarding them. Although they may produce similar results, there’s a big difference.

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Daddy, why can’t you just get money out of one of those machines?

When my first child, who’s now 22, was less than a year old, I took her to an FAO Schwartz store in New York, thinking that she’d have a ball with all the toys and stuffies. But no matter what I pulled off the shelf, she was always far more interested in playing with the price tags than with the toy itself. Ten or 12 years later, I found it endlessly entertaining that she still had her obsession with price tags, saving up her clothing allowance to buy herself jeans  at $150/pair (I get mine at Costco for $12/pair and have never seen the point of paying much more than that). And in all the years in between, I can’t even count the number of times when she, presented with a “No, bunny, I don’t want to buy that right now,” would come back with, “Daddy, can’t you just get money from one of those machines?”
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Allowance for household chores? Hmmm….

Dear Mr. Dad: Our 12-year-old daughter says all her friends get paid for helping around the house, and she wants an allowance for doing chores too. This sounds crazy to my wife and me. Is it really a good idea?

A: I can see why you might scoff at the idea of paying your daughter for doing household chores. After all, when we were growing up, chores were a given, and our parents never would have paid us for doing simple things that contributed to the smooth running of the household. But that was also the era when we walked 12 miles to school every day, uphill both ways. In the snow. Barefoot. Without a cell phone.
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Encouraging generosity

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I have always been actively involved in worthwhile causes and regularly volunteer at an organization that helps disadvantaged people in our community. Our children are now eight and ten. Is it too early to teach them the importance of generosity, and how do we do it?

A: Congrats to both of you for not only choosing to be part of such a worthwhile cause, but also for wanting to grow the spirit of generosity in your children. Communities all across America need more people like you, especially since many of them don’t have enough funding to help those in need.

The simple answer to your question is that it’s never too early (or too late, for that matter) to teach your children about altruism and to lay the groundwork for a lifetime commitment to helping less fortunate than themselves. This is particularly important since they live in a “me” centered society, where far too many people put their own needs ahead of others’, or ignore other people’s misfortunes altogether.
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