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Why I Paid My Kids To Do Chores And Let Them Negotiate With Me

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Should parents pay their kids to do family chores? Why or why not?

My wife and I found it very useful to pay our children for chores. We did it instead of giving an allowance.

Part of the reason to do this is that children don’t have a very advanced sense of social contributions. Insisting that they do chores for free doesn’t help advance that social sense. They don’t appreciate the fact that they are fed and clothed and housed and raised by parents; they just think that is the way the world is. Forcing them to do chores with the purpose of instilling that appreciation doesn’t really work. Since they have not experienced any alternatives to their family life, they can’t really picture what it is like.

I am reminded of an old story that appeared in the newspaper, when children from the wealthiest area of San Francisco were asked to write essays about what it is like to be poor. One girl wrote (something like) this: “Mary lived in a very poor home. She didn’t have enough food to eat. Even her servants didn’t have enough food. Her chauffeur was dying of starvation.”

That just reflects the fact that children don’t have the larger perspective of the world. What they get they take for granted; making them do chores doesn’t teach the lesson that is intended.

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Paying for chores in my family not only got them to do them, and to get into the habit of doing them, but helped convey the meaning of another abstraction: money. My daughter, rather than badger me for a toy she wanted, or waiting for a birthday or Christmas, would save up from her earnings. When she finally bought the toy, she felt proud. She even bragged that she had earned it.

Negotiation was preferable to laying down the law.

Another tactic we did was to encourage our children to negotiate. It would go something like this:

Me: Betsy, it’s time to go to bed.
Betsy: Can I finish the movie?
Me: No. But you can watch 2 more minutes of it.
Betsy: Can I have 15 minutes?
Me: No. 5 minutes.
Betsy: 10?
Me: Okay.

Remarkably, after 10 minutes there was no complaint. Betsy felt she had successfully negotiated more time, and she seemed to have a feeling of victory.

My wife and I felt we were teaching a valuable skill to our children. Negotiation was preferable to laying down the law — similar to chores.

My daughter is now my business partner in the technology consulting firm Muller and Associates. We co-founded the non-profit BerkeleyEarth.org, and we are currently founding a new company to provide long-term nuclear waste storage and disposal. (We have jointly filed a patent application for our new approach.) We still negotiate with each other.

Richard Muller is a professor of physics at UC Berkeley and the author of “Energy For Future Presidents.” You can read more from Quora here: