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Why “commission chores” are a great way to teach kids responsiblity and generosity

CHILD FOLDING CLOTHES
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The benefits of letting your kids choose extra chores for extra pocket money go far beyond the work itself.

Let’s talk about something totally non-confrontational: vaccines.

Haha, just kidding. But now that we’ve gotten that knee-jerk reaction out of the way, let’s talk about something slightly controversial: paying kids for chores.

There are lots of different philosophies on the merits and drawbacks of allowances. My kids don’t get allowances for doing expected, daily chores, which is equal parts a philosophical and an economical decision. But I know plenty of thoughtful parents who have good reason for giving their kids allowances. Regardless of your family’s decision on allowances, there’s another method of paying kids to do chores that I’ve recently embraced — chore commissions.

Once my kids turned 8 or so, pocket money from birthdays and tooth fairy visits was no longer enough to sustain the various little expenses they had. Whether it was a trip to the movies with a friend or a bike ride to the gas station to stock up on bubble gum, my kids were starting to want (and in some cases need) a little cash flow. For a while, I just handed over money … after all, I wanted them to be able to do things with their friends. But this year, with a 13-, 10-, and 8-year-old, that “little” cash flow became increasingly larger, and the requests for money became increasingly frequent.

While I still give them $10 for a trip to the  movie or dinner out with a friend’s family, I started to feel uncomfortable handing over money just for “wants.” Bike rides to the gas station, trips to Braums, that new Pokémon deck my son saw in Target and simply couldn’t live without … all those extras started contributing to something that made me far more uncomfortable than an increased financial demand. They started contributing to a sense of entitlement.

Gradually, my kids stopped being grateful for little extras. They no longer seemed to appreciate the gift — in fact, when I said no they became sullen and resentful instead of simply disappointed. They had slowly begun to see these little extras as something they were entitled to.

But I wasn’t willing to give them an allowance for chores they were expected to do as part of family life, so my sister had the brilliant idea to flip the switch by letting them earn “chore commissions.” We came up with a few ground rules for what kinds of chores they could do to earn a commissions, and a fee structure based on the workload and the “generosity” factor.

Commission chores have three elements:

1
Extra-ordinary

Not extraordinary in the “astonishing” way, but simply out-of-the norm chores. Obviously this will vary in different families, but for us things like doing dishes, clearing the table, taking out the recycling, and putting away laundry aren’t commission-worthy. Those chores are just part of what it means to be part of a family that works together to maintain order. Commission chores are things that aren’t daily necessities. Sometimes this means they’re bigger, “project” chores like edging or mowing. Other times they’re smaller, week-long chores like making all the beds. Regardless, this quality just ensures that the chore is something out of the norm the child gets to choose according to his or her interest.

2
Comprehensive

A commission chore has to be thoroughly completed to earn a commission. Usually one of the adults checks to see that the chore is completed carefully and thoroughly, according to the ability of the child in question. So a comprehensive lawn-mowing session is likely to look different for the 13-year-old than the 8-year old simply because the 13-year-old is more competent. The important part is that the child completes the chore to the best of his or her ability, without shirking or shortcuts.

3
Generous

This is my favorite element of commission chores, because it’s helping instill a spirit of generosity in my kids. A commission chore is one that’s done as a gift to someone else in the family. So when my 13-year-old decides to mow the lawn on Friday, she’s saving my dad the time and effort of mowing it himself on Saturday. Likewise, when my 8-year-old decides to make his little brothers’ beds for them all week, he’s saving them the frustration of attempting to pull covers up on unwieldy bunk beds and he’s saving me the time of coming in to help every morning. I’ve been delighted to see my kids get creative in this area particularly, taking notice of things that other people in the family struggle with and choosing that particular area to lend their help. And to be honest, I’ve seen them take as much satisfaction in helping others as they take in earning money, if not more.

Commission chores have been a game changer for us in ways that go far beyond financial. This opportunity is encouraging my kids to pay more attention to the work everyone is doing, to choose projects that they’re interested in, and to find creative ways to help other members of the family. It’s really beautiful to see them growing in virtue and cooperation while also developing a better work ethic. So even if your kids get an allowance for daily chores, I encourage you to give them the chance to help out in new and different ways by offering commission chores.

And you might be pleasantly surprised by the results. As it turns out, my 8-year-old is the best bed-maker in the house, and my 13-year-old is a meticulous lawn-mower. Who knew?!

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