Using Money To Reward And Punish Kids

December 7, 2018  |  
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disciplining a kid

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Your toddler doesn’t understand the value of a dollar, so when children are really young, you have to learn other ways to incentivize them to behave. But, once children reach an age when money has some value to them—say, when they can use it to buy candy from their school’s campus store, or when they can buy their friend’s cookies off of them—it’s tempting to take advantage of that. You, as a parent, have the dollars to hand out (keeping in mind that, to a child, $5 is a huge deal). And sometimes, you’d love to just throw money at the problem. Temper tantrums, rude behavior, homework neglect, being thrown in detention—these are all issues to which you’d love to say, “If I gave you $10, would you be better?” But using money to reward and punish kids is a tricky thing. You don’t want to set up unrealistic expectations, or ultimately make things harder on yourself. Here are guidelines for using money to punish and reward kids.

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“If you stop screaming, you get $5”

Your child is being a top of the line gremlin in the grocery store—screaming and throwing a tantrum while you pick out produce and wait in line to check out. You want so badly to offer him $5 to just behave.

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Why it’s bad

If your child gets offered money mid-tantrum, he’ll begin throwing tantrums, just so that he can get that money. While it is hard, you have to resist the urge to coddle, baby, and basically cater to your child’s tantrum. Show him nothing good comes from it.

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“You were so good in there—here’s a little $$”

Now, if your child, on his own, is just a perfect little angel on the trip to the grocery store, then after the trip, you can say, “You were so good at the store today. Here’s a little money to show my appreciation.”

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Why it’s okay

That isn’t using money to get rid of tantrums: it’s using money to reward pre-existing good behavior. It teaches your child that if she is good, she may expect little surprises like that.

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“No chores, no allowance”

Your child won’t clean her room, empty the dishwasher, set the table, fold the laundry, or do any of her chores. So, you tell her that if she doesn’t do all of her chores, that she will not get her allowance. If she does most of them but misses one or two, she’ll get a reduced allowance

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Why it’s fair

In the real world–something you should prepare your kids for–, if you don’t complete your work, you won’t get paid. Or, if you clock out early, you’ll see a pay cut when your check rolls in. It’s good for your child to learn that.

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“You got an A—here’s $20”

Your kiddo got an A on her paper. Naturally, you want to reward her! So, you reach for a $20 to hand her, to show her how special you think she is.

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Why it’s bad

Unfortunately, in the real world, your child will not receive a pay bonus just for doing adequate work. If you think about it, that’s what an A is—it’s work that doesn’t have any mistakes. And that’s the exact type of work any employer will expect. A boss will not pay you extra because you simply didn’t mess up. Take your child to a nice dinner or a movie to celebrate her A. That is what your kid’s spouse will one day do, when she gets praise at work.

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Having kids compete for money

“Whoever cleans their room first gets $10!” and your kids are off to the races. If you have two children, this can be a powerful way to motivate them to do their chores.

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Why it’s bad

In general, it’s not great to cultivate a sense of competition amongst your children. The world will provide them with plenty of competition—let your kids be each other’s support systems and comfort. Rather than have them compete for money, have them work together. Say, “If you two work together and do a good job cleaning up, I’ll take you to your favorite restaurant.”

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An extra clean room means a pay bump

You tell your kid that if she does an extra good job at a certain chore, that you’ll give her money. She often does a mediocre job of cleaning her room, stuffing her clothes into drawers rather than folding them, and loosely making the bed.

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Why it’s bad

Remember that there is a difference between doing an extra good job at something, and just doing an acceptable job. What you’re actually teaching your kid here is that, by simply doing an acceptable job, she’ll get rewarded. That doesn’t set your child up to be a good employee one day. That sets her up to be an employee who turns work in, incomplete, and demands more pay if her boss wants the job done.

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Pay scales for multiple children

Your have multiple children, and they’re a few years apart. You know that their relative cost of living (for things like bubble gum versus bus fare) is a bit different. You want to give the older child a little more money in her allowance than the younger one.

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Why it’s okay

You can give the older child a bit more money, so long as you also give her a bit more responsibility. As she is older, she can handle chores the younger one can’t. If the younger one sees her older sibling doing harder tasks, she’ll understand that it’s fair that she gets a higher allowance.

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Give me a hug, and I’ll give you a dollar

Maybe you don’t do this, but that auntie or grandpa who comes over does. She tells your kid, “Give auntie a hug, and I’ll give you a dollar.” She was going to give the kid the money either way, because doing so makes her happy. The hug was just a playful thing to add.

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Why it’s bad

Ask that relatives don’t offer money as reward for affection. This can actually set a very bad precedent in which your child equates affection with some sort of chore or work. It’s very unhealthy.

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