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ALLOWANCES

The world has sure changed since I got my quarter a week. The stakes are higher but parents still have questions about allowances.

A recent one: “Could you please discuss allowances: what age to begin, how much, and what it should be used for.”

An allowance serves several purposes. First of all, properly used, an allowance will help teach your child what money is, what it does, that money can be saved, and that money you don’t have can’t be spent.

An allowance also helps your child develop autonomy which means self-governance. When your child is young, you make the decisions about what your child eats and what toys your child plays with. As the child gets older, some of these decisions can and should be made by the child as practice for adulthood when he or she will have to make the decisions.

And many of the decisions we make involve money. An allowance enables the parents to set up a practice field where, under your supervision, your children can begin to make decisions about what to buy.

Finally, allowances help teach children values: saving for the future, donating to those less fortunate, grappling with consumerism, resisting TV commercials.

When should allowances be started? Children watch us exchange money (or plastic) for goods when we push the grocery cart through the check-out. At an early age they begin to grasp the concrete principle that money is exchanged for goods. (My stepson, not quite five, once took a twenty-dollar bill from his mother’s purse, walked to the nearby store and asked the clerk how much candy this could buy. The store owner brought him and the twenty back home!)

Most parents start allowances when the child enters first grade. Determine the amount of money you give the child from what the child’s expenses are. For example, if the child has to purchase milk or lunch at school, the allowance should cover this plus a small sum that the adult world calls discretionary. The child can theoretically spend discretionary money the way he or she wants to.

But keep control over how the YOUNG child spends discretionary money. If your child has an allergy to chocolate you don’t want the money to go for a candy bar. Ask the young child to check with you before making a purchase. When you realize the child has acceptable levels of judgement, remove this restriction and give the child the freedom to make his or her own decisions including bad decisions from which the child can learn.

I feel the child should be made to save a portion of the allowance. A savings account teaches how banks work and how money can grow. Most parents expect this money to be used for college.

As the child’s expenses go up–the need to purchase school supplies or sports paraphernalia–the allowance is increased.

Decide in advance what the child is expected to purchase with the allowance. A family meeting is the perfect time to set down allowance rules

There are two schools of thought about why the allowance is given. One group of experts say that the allowance is “payment” for chores and suggest you “fine” the child if chores are not done. The other group tells parents not to tie chores to allowances.

I am in the latter group. I feel quite strongly that we give our children allowances because they live in a complex world where they must learn about money and how to use it wisely. To my way of thinking an allowance is a child’s right. The child needs a certain amount of money to exist in his or her world. Until the child is old enough to work, this money is provided by the parents, just as food and shelter are provided.

Chores are something we all have to do. Chores are done in exchange for the privilege of living in a family home. Parents should start children doing chores almost from babyhood, whereas allowances make no sense until much later.

So, allowances are a right; chores are a responsibility and I prefer to separate them. You can, however, pay your child for “extraordinary” tasks around the house like cleaning the garage or painting. If you would have to hire a stranger, why not pay your child?

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