Editor’s note: Over the next several weeks, the Eyres are sharing what they consider the best parenting ideas they have come across during their three decades of writing to and speaking with parents worldwide. Portions of this column have been previously published. See their previous columns on deseretnews.com.
In our work with parents, we often survey our audiences as to what they think is their biggest parenting challenge. The No. 1 vote-getter is entitlement — more than quarreling, peer pressure, disrespect, dishonesty, drugs or anything else. Kids who have an entitlement attitude — who think they should have whatever they want, right now, without waiting or working for it — tend to lose motivation, gratitude, respect and a host of other things their parents want them to gain.
The best way for parents to deal with this widespread problem is to understand that we give our children more by giving them less, and to set up a family economy where the children share household responsibilities and have weekly paydays instead of weekly allowance days.
It is amazing what a profound effect a wooden chest with a big lock on it can have on children when it is explained as a “family bank.” Kids are made more confident and competent by responsibility. A strong family institution needs a way to divide and share the work of the household and a way of letting kids earn a small “share” in the family’s income.
Here is an example of one way to set up a “family economy.” (Each family should create a system tailored to its needs, but this example will help.) This approach works best for kids ages 7-12. If you can start it during those years, it can continue to work into the teens.
Caution: Don’t try to set this up overnight. It will take a lot of discussion and some trial and error. Remember that infrastructures take time to build but ultimately save time. Here is the implementation sequence:
1. Create a big chart of all the household work that exists. List everything, from doing the breakfast dishes to sweeping the patio. Explain that those who do a share of the work should get a share of the money that comes into the family. While everyone should take care of his or her own room without pay, there are plenty of common areas in the house and yard that need to be taken care of, and daily tasks that someone needs to do. Those who do them should share in the family income.
2. Tell kids that this approach will allow them to earn more than they could get as an allowance, and that with their earnings they can buy their own toys and devices and clothes. Kids in this age range — 7-12 years old — are flattered by responsibility. (Note that this system doesn’t require any additional money; parents are simply taking the funds they already spend on their children, channeling that money through the kids who “earn it” and allowing those children to make their own purchasing decisions, thus teaching economic and motivational lessons.)
3. Set up a chart and explain there are four things each child can get “credit” for each day: First, getting up and being ready for school on time; second, making sure one “zone” or area of the house or yard (not their own room) is clean and in order; third, completing daily homework (and music or other extracurricular practice, if applicable); and fourth, being ready and in bed by bedtime. Each day, they can fill out a slip on their own initiative (without a lot of reminding from you) with a “1,” “2,” “3” or “4," depending on how many of the four tasks they completed. A parent must initial the completed slip to make it official.
4. The slips go into a slot on the top of the family bank, and Saturday becomes “payday,” when the bank is opened and each child receives an amount proportionate to the total of his slips. He can take his money in cash or leave it in the family bank. He is given a fake checkbook with which he can deposit money to the family bank (with a deposit slip) or draw it out (with a check). When he goes shopping with you, he brings his checkbook and writes a check out to you so you, in turn, can pay for what he buys. He keeps track of his balance in his check register.
5. This family economy can be enhanced in a number of ways. A child can have an interest-paying savings account as well as a checking account in the family bank. Parents may want to pay a high interest rate on the condition that the savings are to be used only for college. When a child turns 16, real checking and savings accounts are opened for him at a local bank or a discount brokerage, and all the money in his family bank account is transferred in. Children might also be encouraged to donate a certain percentage of what they earn to church or charity.