My oldest is pining after a marble track he saw at a local toy store. It’s infinitely better than any marble track he already owns, which is a considerable amount after the last few years of Christmas and birthday gifts. I refused to buy it. It’s a $60 toy that he doesn’t need, and I’m not even considering it for holiday wish lists.
The job opportunity
He’s more resilient about meeting challenges these days, but $60 is a lot for him to earn. Especially for a kid who whines about work being “too hard” when he doesn’t want to do it. I fully expected to hear re-occurrent requests for the toy and see zero actual attempts to earn it.
Fast forward to the last few weekends, which were work weeks for my family. We promised the kids a play area in the backyard when we moved, but getting to that point has involved a LOT of shoveling, swearing, and cleaning up. We were finally at the final mulch stage (because weeds suck and I hate mud pits) and I asked the kids to help out.
Hard work pays off
Our local composting facility offers free mulch, but you have to load and unload the loose mulch yourself. I told the kids that if they helped, I would pay them hard cash for their hard work. The Engineer’s eyes lit up and I could see the marbles dancing in his thought process.
I offered $1 per bucket of mulch. The younger ones tried hard, but they grew tired and bored quickly. My oldest worked his rear off. After the first 10 buckets I made him rest, concerned about heat stroke. The next week, he did 17 buckets, working until we finished and it was time to leave.
Over the last few weeks he’s earned over $50. He’s almost to his goal of $64: because (homeschool!) we calculated sales tax and figured out his total.
Paying a kid to work?
A lot of people might think I’m being ridiculous – it’s certainly not how I was raised. I grew up doing chores because it was expected of me, and I only remember getting paid for the really big stuff like loading and unloading cords of firewood for customers. Which I hated, by the way. I would have preferred to skip both the work and the money but I wasn’t allowed to.
Here’s the thing – it’s super hard for kids to earn money these days. Paper routes are a thing of the past. Kids aren’t allowed to mow neighbors’ lawns any more (legally, anyway.) Not everyone lives where they can shovel snow, and those who do face a rise in snow blowers eating into their client base. Even lemonade stands are being regulated.
How are we supposed to teach a good work ethic and train our kids to voluntarily do the hard stuff without a reward? The problem with creating a good habit or ethic is that you have to practice it, and you need to feel motivated even if the job itself isn’t fun or rewarding. Money helps create that motivation for my kids.
Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation
A lot of people say things like “kids need to learn that they don’t get rewarded for doing their job in real life,” or “I don’t get a reward for doing chores!” That’s not really true – adults have a more nuanced reward system, but they still have one. A glass of beer after a job well done, a little chocolate when the laundry is finished, or even a shopping trip after completing a difficult task. We all do it, we just don’t realize it.
I’m out a large chunk of cash because I made the decision to pay my kids to do a job that I probably could have finished faster and done better. I’m ok with that. Because my kids worked hard and learned to appreciate what we do. He filled 17 buckets. I filled 200. I didn’t rub it in his face, I just got out there and worked myself into a flare because it needed to be done. A good example is just as important as teaching a good work ethic.
We’re still trying to figure out how to help him meet his goal without outright giving him money. It’s hard when you’re 8 years old and can’t get a job!