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What is an Appropriate Allowance for a Child?

QUESTION: We have an 11 year old who has to do some minor chores around the house. Do you think it is a good idea to give him an allowance for doing chores?

ANSWER: Allotting your children chores that are appropriate to their abilities not only teaches responsibility, but makes them feel like an important part of the family. Just as there is pleasure in giving, there is also a sense of belonging and empowerment that is gained by being an intrinsic part of a family team.

Your son is likely to learn that what he contributes is not only valuable, but that others depend on him to do his part. This raises his self-esteem and allows him to envision himself as an active and valuable participant in other group activities, now and in the future.

At 11, he is certainly capable of washing dishes, carpet sweeping, feeding the dog, watering or weeding the garden, taking out the garbage or recycling -- to name a few household duties. Naturally, there will be other things that are his "job" to do, including his homework and personal hygiene. Decide what needs to be done around the home and consider asking him what "jobs" he would like to take responsibility for on a regular basis.

Allowance may be given, however, steer clear of any concept of "employment." In other words, though your son may receive allowance which is part of his privilege, it should not be assumed that he can decide to forego his chores and turn down his allowance. Your authority includes setting realistic expectations for him to fulfill. The allowance represents the respect and value of his contribution to the family. Still, his "duties" are not optional, but a natural requirement of his membership in the family.

Be authoritative, but do not become an authoritarian! The difference is flexibility and adopting a "democratic" attitude. Solicit suggestions from your son about what chores he would like to take on, and be open to negotiation when special needs arise. Final exams or special projects may be a reason to "excuse" him from his duties for the week. Exceptions are fine as long as the chores are reinstated as soon as possible.

As your son matures, family duties may be matched with increased responsibility. Driving privileges can carry responsibility for weekly grocery shopping or some other duty which involves driving the car. This pairing of responsibility with privilege creates a sense of fairness and gradually prepares you son for the reality of adult life.

You are preparing your son to be a valuable member of the society in which he lives when you encourage his active participation in family upkeep. After all, isn't that what family is all about?

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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