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Discipline Meet Allowance

Earlier this month, On Parenting celebrated its second birthday. In two years of writing and reading every one of your comments, I've enjoyed the debate (even those contentious ones). Particularly great have been those times when we learn from each other. One of those early conversations was about allowance and chores and whether the two should be tied together.

In general, financial experts like Kiplinger's Janet Bodnar say no, that chores should be expected as a part of family life. Allowance teaches necessary money management skills and should be separate. Well, like many of you who commented back then, we tried that. And while the kids will do what we ask of them in an acceptable amount of time, the method needed a different twist in our house.

About a month ago, we made a change that so far has been a miracle worker (of course, that's subject to change any minute). While some chores are now related to the kids newly expanded allowance, another key element in all our lives is as well: behavior.

A chalkboard in the kitchen serves as a tally board. Do what we ask and get a good tally. Don't listen, don't behave, don't do your chores, get a bad one (bonus: preschooler has learned about tallies). Get five bad tallies or more and say goodbye to some of that coveted allowance money. In large part, the system's working because husband and I talked it out ahead of time. We back each other up and talk out new issues after the kids have gone to sleep. We jointly decide how much allowance the kids have earned.

Before the tally board, our life looked a bit too much like Alan Kazdin and Carlo Rotella's "No, You Shut Up" recent article on Slate, which discusses what to do when your kid "provokes you into an inhuman rage." Shock and Awe, The Rational Saint, the Void, the Parking Ticket, Check, check, check and check. The Mona Lisa face: Sorry, I just can't carry off that expression.

The Kazdin-Rotello takeaway is that taking away a privilege is the most effective disciplinary option. (You may remember Kazdin from his article on how we overuse time-outs, rendering them ineffective.) Even that, they say, is not the perfect discipline solution; it's simply the best they've come up with thus far.

What have some of your responses been to your kids' misbehavior? Which ones do you wish you could take back? What works in your household?

And since we've been going at this for two years, what topics would you like to revisit in On Parenting? What topics would you like to see more of? Less of? I, for one, am always looking to add more voices and experiences to On Parenting. So, if you've got a parenting story you'd like to share, please e-mail me at

By Stacey Garfinkle |  February 18, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
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Public tally score card! Yikes! Are you running a prison?

Posted by: jezebel3 | February 18, 2009 7:16 AM | Report abuse

What happens when they've lost all of their allowance? Maybe instead of taking away, you should give a "bonus" for excellent behavior - just like work?

Posted by: moxiemom1 | February 18, 2009 8:16 AM | Report abuse

growing up the only choice i had was to do it or do it! i remember asking for an allowance and was told 'what for? we give you everything you need!' LOL

Posted by: nall92 | February 18, 2009 8:25 AM | Report abuse

The kids still living at home get their allowances independent of chores. There are other consequences of not doing chores (e.g., being grounded, losing TV/computer/game time).

They can sometimes earn that "bonus" moxiemom refers to by doing extra chores or by doing them really well, but we don't take money away for failure to do regular chores.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | February 18, 2009 8:40 AM | Report abuse

A great book in general but also one that touches on this topic is "the Blessings of a Skinned Knee". It suggests changing the vocabulary around chores. Instead of, if you do this, then you will get that the book suggests using "when you do this, then you will get that".

For instance.... when you are able to take out the trash for five consecutive days in a row without having to be reminded than you will be able to play video games. This type of language places the responsibility completely on the child. The parent shouldn't remind the child at all about the chore. When the child wants to play video games, the parent simply asks if they have earned the privilege

Posted by: teach1 | February 18, 2009 9:43 AM | Report abuse

The kids have a minor amount of chores to do as we only have them for the weekend. They have to put their clothes away, pick up their toys, help with groceries and help with cleaning or setting the table for a meal. There is no allowance given by us for these chores.

I have contemplated discussing something with my honey that they have implemented at school. For things they do right...they get a penny. For things they do wrong... they lose a penny. It is upsetting him that he is losing pennies at a faster rate than he is gathering them. At the end of a set period of time, he can buy things with the pennies that he has from the class 'store'.

Perhaps this would help us with the inevitable complaining about everything. I don't think we ask a lot of the kids but just about everything ends up with him complaining or making things more difficult. His sister is much more easy going and it usually isn't too difficult to get her with the program. It might also help him with the concept of saving for items he wants as he would have to work towards earning expensive items (and no a penny wouldn't be worth a penny for purchase).

Posted by: Billie_R | February 18, 2009 10:03 AM | Report abuse

Every kid is different. For my kids, timeouts were the magic cure-all. But what works for my kids may not work for yours.

Parenting is more art than science. You need to tailor your approach to your kids.

Posted by: afsljafweljkjlfe | February 18, 2009 10:07 AM | Report abuse

afslj the unpronounceable has it right. Every kid is different (jezebel, you missed your line today). You have to choose what works for each child individually (what works for my girl certainly won't work for my boy, and vice-versa).

So far, we haven't tied allowance to chores; chores are just things you do because you're a member of the family and we ask you to. I don't want to create the expectation that every time they do something around the house, they get anything more than a thank you.

But we do use periodic incentives for DD, and some are financial. Through trial and error, we found that she responds much better to incentives for doing well than to penalties for messing up. So we look for incentives that are meaningful to her -- and now that she has discovered the power of having her own money to spend, money has moved onto that list.

Best example is homework attitude: she had a very, very bad experience last year, which intimidated the bejeebers out of her and led to much whining/procrastinating at homework time. After we fixed the original problem, the behavior remained -- and penalties, lost privileges, nagging, etc. just made the problem worse. So we finally switched to an incentive program: whenever she sits down and does her homework without complaining or procrastinating, she gets 50 cents. THAT flipped the switch, and I mean instantly -- she was able to correlate her behavior to the freedome to buy chips or pretzels in the cafeteria the next day. Bingo, done -- after one slipup the first week, she has been perfect homework girl.

But of course the other caveat is that kids change. We've used any number of systems over time, and they all eventually lose their power. So I'm just always working to stay one step ahead of them!

Posted by: laura33 | February 18, 2009 11:30 AM | Report abuse

Why do you always make this so complicated? First, chores and allowance are separate issues. Chores are an expected part of family life. Allowances are to teach money handling skills. The amount should be just enough to offer either "instant gratification" or give the option of saving for something bigger. Gifts of toys should be limited to birthdays and religious gift-giving holidays (PC for Christmas, Hanakah,?). There shouldn't be any "here's a toy because I feel guilty about dumping you in daycare for someone else to raise so I can have an exciting career".

Loss of allowance can be a disiplinary option but it should be all-or-nothing. No Tally Boards to turn your kids into bad behavior accountants. Good behavior is EXPECTED. School grades that reflect the child's best effort are EXPECTED. Respectful treatment of others is EXPECTED. No "bonuses" for expected behavior.

Posted by: kenman57 | February 18, 2009 12:01 PM | Report abuse

It's good your pre-schooler is learning there are reasons to know how to count!

It reminds me of our TV watching system. Boys could earn TV chips for watching TV. It was hinged on chores, behavior. We had little "chips" they'd get.

Well, older son figured out where younger son was putting his chips and took them all!

Back to the drawing board, we had "chips" with each child's name on them.

How long until your kids start sneaking around on the public tally board changing each other's scores?

Posted by: RedBird27 | February 18, 2009 12:02 PM | Report abuse

We always had chores growing up - the whole, you're part of the family deal. But at some point, each of my parents actively wanted to unload some of their tasks, as we got old enough to do them. Each of my parents ended up paying one or more kids to do the chore that the parent didn't want to do. It became part of the allowance - you start doing the entire family's laundry, and you will get this much each week in exchange. But we weren't paid for homework, cleaning our rooms, helping to clean the house for company, etc. Just when my folks wanted out of chores the disliked.

But there's a big difference in how you negotiate with a teenager, and how you handle a similar situation with a 6 year old.

Posted by: JHBVA | February 18, 2009 12:02 PM | Report abuse

afslj the unpronounceable has it right. Every kid is different (jezebel, you missed your line today).

Posted by: laura33 | February 18, 2009 11:30 AM | Report abuse

LOL! I missed my cue.
Here come the Food Police.

Posted by: jezebel3 | February 18, 2009 12:38 PM | Report abuse

The bean counter thing is a little creepy.

Posted by: jezebel3 | February 18, 2009 12:40 PM | Report abuse

I think the focus should be on making expectations clear, and setting expectations that promote responsible behavior, rather than keeping an aggregate account of good and bad and "settling up" at some point (when it may no longer be clear to the child what was wrong, or at a time when the child doesn't care if he has to forgo $X). We prefer to set a general expectation that it is important to be a responsible person. Then it is our job to be clear about what it takes to fulfill the expectation, and to deal with any problem specifically with consequences tied to the specific issue. In our house, responsible people do homework, have their own chores or tasks that help the family, can be trusted to do what they say they are doing, etc. Responsible people are not paid or otherwise specially rewarded to behave responsibly. Irresponsible people may find, depending on the level of irresponsibility, that they lose out on an opportunity to do something fun on a Friday evening or to watch TV, for example. So, I guess we have taken an approach similar to the Kazdin theory and it seems to work very well in our house.

Posted by: CharmCityMom | February 18, 2009 1:37 PM | Report abuse

I plan to withhold a percentage of the allowance to teach the kids about taxes.

Posted by: NoVAHockey | February 18, 2009 2:03 PM | Report abuse

My kids do all the regular family chores - dishes, laundry, trash duty, lawn mowing..., or whatever needs to get done at the time. Rarely do they complain, but I have to agree that the old, "Dad, I'm doing my calculus homework and I have a test tomorrow", takes priority over scrubbing a toilet.

They get no allowance. The amount of effort it takes to make a chore/behavior chart and maintain it for 4 kids with different monetary needs in accordance with the spouse takes *WAY* too much effort, gets tedious, manipulative, and to think that giving a kid the freedom to choose between a pack of gum and a cheap plastic toy has anything to do with their ability to handle a mortgage, bills, investments, credit debt later on in life is laughable. Stacey, honey, may I suggest you take up a hobby before you drive yourself nuts?

I do however, on occasion, circulate cash to the ankle biters so they can manage their own economies. Though money isn't tied to chores in my family, there is often some kind of incentive behind my willingness to hand over my hard earned cash. For instance: when my daughter drove me to Home Depot, picked out and helped me install towel racks for the bathroom, I had no problem giving her $20 for gas. I'll do other wacky stuff like charge my kids $3 to watch a movie, then pay them back a dollar at a time for fetching me a beer. This is known as win-win negotiating.

How do I handle misbehavior? Simple, I just correct it and move on. Managing privileges, (TV, video/game time, hours with friends, treats) between 4 kids and keeping it all fair, once again, isn't very rewarding and takes too much effort for what it's worth. I have a life to live too, you know.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | February 18, 2009 2:34 PM | Report abuse

Irresponsible people may find, depending on the level of irresponsibility, that they lose out on an opportunity to do something fun on a Friday evening or to watch TV, for example.

Posted by: CharmCityMom | February 18, 2009 1:37 PM | Report abuse

The TV is evil!

Posted by: jezebel3 | February 18, 2009 2:35 PM | Report abuse

I 2nd all of jezebel's comments for today.

And Laura's too, but that's pretty much a given.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | February 18, 2009 2:59 PM | Report abuse

I 2nd all of jezebel's comments for today.

And Laura's too, but that's pretty much a given.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | February 18, 2009 2:59 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: jezebel3 | February 18, 2009 3:19 PM | Report abuse

I am all for paying for chores. You should be compensated for work,period. Don't work, don't get paid, that's how the world works. They make the choice. Too much people are expected to do things for free and that's why we have people who can't say no and end up overstressed.

Posted by: pwaa | February 18, 2009 3:43 PM | Report abuse

I don't like tying allowance to chores. You have to do chores, even when you are an adult. And you don't get paid for them unless you do them for someone else (i.e., you are a housekeeper/do other people's laundry, etc).
So, that's my view about that.
The kids don't get allowance yet, but we've talked about it for the older kid. We're still discussing. He thinks he's saving up for a DS, but I don't think he really understands how much it costs.
As for punishment, what I've found incredibly helpful is when, if they're not listening and I send them to their room, and they don't go - well, then I start taking things out of their room (stuffed animals, books, whatever). They HATE that. And then every day if they're good, at the end of the day they get to get one thing back from 'the closet.' So they could lose everything - and they get it back over several weeks. It took a little while for them to figure it all out - but I hated getting angry at them, and I was trying to find something that would get them angry - and that wouldn't be so confrontational. It seems to work really well.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | February 18, 2009 4:15 PM | Report abuse

"My kids do all the regular family chores - dishes, laundry, trash duty, lawn mowing..., or whatever needs to get done at the time. Rarely do they complain, but I have to agree that the old, "Dad, I'm doing my calculus homework and I have a test tomorrow", takes priority over scrubbing a toilet"

This raises an interesting point. I don't disagree, but it speak to the importance of time managment skills and keeping a schedule. I think I wouldn't let a kid get out of a chore due to homework if he was wasting time or not productive despite knowing he had several outstanding responsibilities.

Posted by: NoVAHockey | February 18, 2009 4:56 PM | Report abuse

We tie chores to allowance with our 5 year old. Every time he does all of his chores for the night, he gets a star. 7 stars equals one week's allowance. So far it is working well.

Posted by: MOMto2 | February 19, 2009 4:39 AM | Report abuse

We have a "chore chart" on the fridge that is divided into morning, daytime, and evening chores. It's simple chores like making the bed, choosing appropriate clothes, and brushing hair in the morning, washing hands before meals and after bathroom breaks, cleaning up the room (even a six-year-old can understand "pick it up and put it where it belongs"), putting dishes in the sink, and evening chores such as taking a bath, doing homework, brushing teeth, and going to bed on time. Each chore completed gets a star, and if they're all completed, it means a reward like a movie time on the weekends.

Our older daughter also gets an allowance of $1 a week, and whether or not she gets to keep all of it depends on the "fine chart" we have set up as well. There is a series of fines in place for such things as wasting food at meals, leaving the lights on, leaving the water running in the sink, or talking back to parents. The cost of such is usually a nickel or a dime. However, that can add up during a bad week! She's learning that we mean what we say, and that chores are a GOOD thing!

Posted by: dragondancer1814 | February 19, 2009 2:43 PM | Report abuse

It's funny to think that kids who commit tiny no-nos get their pay docked.

They have only to turn on the TV to see adults who wrecked the entire world economy getting huge pay bonuses.

Maybe we should give bonuses to well-behaved kids and dock the allowance of certain naughty adults. It sure would be cheaper.

Posted by: bourassa1 | February 19, 2009 5:18 PM | Report abuse

I don't like tallies for general use. I think they encourage kids to keep score, and my twins need no encouragement to keep score.

Our behavior issues have been homework related, and show up at the end of fifth grade. I did use tallies to teach one son how to focus on writing. There, he worked at the kitchen table while I prepared food. The rule was that if I looked over and he was distracted, I walked over and made a mark on a piece of paper on the table. At first, I wouldn't tell him what the marks were for, only that he wouldn't want very many. I think he accumulated 11.

After his work was done, we did calisthenics: ten reps for each mark. We did them side by side. He was surprised at how hard that could be, and when we were done, he commented that while it wasn't that bad, he didn't like being made to do it.

That was enough for him to try harder. The next year he was fine. The main point is to get the child's attention, and explain specifically what the problem is and how it can be rectified. Extreme parenting is a sign that communication has been lacking for a while.

Posted by: Irishgirl1 | February 19, 2009 11:35 PM | Report abuse

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