Giving Children an Allowance: Contrasting Views
Parents often ask me questions that pertain to the topic of giving children allowances. The following are a representative sample:
- Should you give children an allowance?
- How frequently should you give an allowance?
- Should you give an allowance that is large enough to cover the costs of children's lunches at school or some of their clothing or similar expenses?
- If you give an allowance, at what age should you start?
- As a parent, should you have some say in how the allowance is spent (or saved)?
- Should giving the allowance be based on children fulfilling certain responsibilities in the house?
- Should an allowance be withheld if our children display negative behavior or do not fulfill a responsibility?
At my workshops and in my clinical practice I have offered responses to these questions. In general, my views about allowance are:
- Children should be given an allowance.
- The amount given should be reasonable and realistic, based, in part, on the child's age; in deciding on an amount, the family's financial situation should be taken into consideration.
- A small allowance can be given when children are five or six years old.
- For simplicity and regularity, an allowance given each week works best.
- An allowance should not be given to cover basic needs such as for school lunches or for clothing. However, if a child wants something relatively expensive such as the latest superstar endorsed sneakers, I think it is appropriate and realistic for parents to establish a limit on how much they are willing to contribute towards the purchase of the sneakers; if their child still wants the sneakers he or she can use allowance money or money that is earned to fill in the balance.
- In determining an allowance, parents can establish a policy that a certain percentage--even a small percentage such as 10-15%--be set aside for savings. However, I believe that parents should refrain from dictating how the rest of the allowance is being spent. A father told me he was upset by the amount of allowance his son used to buy baseball cards, although to his credit the son did not ask for an increase in allowance to purchase other things. The father's distress was lessened by the profit his son made when selling the cards. The father proudly commented, "My son's become quite an entrepreneur."
- Another parent was concerned because her 12-year-old daughter was in the habit of immediately using her entire allowance to buy fashion magazines. On several occasions the girl asked her mother if she could have an "advance" on next week's allowance. The mother wisely declined, informing her daughter, "It's your decision about how and when to spend your allowance. If you spend it all on the first day you should realize that you won't have any money to spend on other things during the rest of the week." The mother reported that within a few weeks, her daughter learned to "ration" her weekly allowance and have some left at the end of the week.
- An allowance should not be given nor withheld as a condition for performing certain responsibilities or behaving in certain ways. I will elaborate on this point later in the article, but in my experience the practice of using an allowance as a reward or punishment frequently backfires. I am not implying that a child's behavior should not prompt consequences but rather that the consequences not involve the giving or withholding of an allowance.
Permission to reprint granted by Dr. Robert Brooks. All rights reserved.
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