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Should you reward your kids?

Montessori does not advocate rewarding kids. So, then, how do we teach kids to want to be helpful? Teaching the value of hard work is not an easy task especially when there is no tangible trade like cash.

rewarding kids

More and more these days I find people writing about, stressing the importance of and creating tools to help teach kids financial responsibility. A sign of the times, I suppose. There has never been greater need for that teaching and it is not too late. Although these ideas should have always been a part of the Parenting 101 manual (one exists, right?), as a parent and a person part of a truly remarkable messed up financial world, our children (aka the future) are the perfect place to start instilling good financial habits and thinking around money. So when I see an article in a widely read publication like the NY Times, my heart warms and I know that we’re going to be all right.

The most recent article I read was in the NY Times, titled Teaching Children to Help Neighbors, With or Without Reward. The author makes many wonderful points about the value of helping without the tangible benefit of receiving a “reward†in the form of money or a gift card, etc.

Rewarding Kids – Should You?

A few points can be boiled down to:

  • Knowing when it is appropriate to accept reward and not to accept reward:

The family needs to teach when it is appropriate to get paid and when to go the extra distance, Ms. Godfrey said. If, for example, your son regularly gets paid to rake leaves for a neighbor, but that neighbor is suddenly ill, it would be right for him to help out without asking for more money. Or offer to work free until the neighbor gets back on her feet.

Teaching how to make that judgment, rather than simply laying down rules, is a subtle and complex message and is as important as the job itself, she said.

  • Knowing how much to give (adults) and knowing how much your services are worth (children):

In an affluent community, like ours, another unlikely problem arises overpaying.

I have felt the pressure myself. You don’t know what to pay. You don’t want to seem cheap. You don’t want the child telling her parents you were cheap. You want to get the child to come back to tend to your cats.

So you err on the side of offering too much money.

Bad idea, said Janet Bodnar, editor of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. If they’ve been overcompensated, then the financial lesson has been totally lost. 


The ability to judge when it is appropriate to give a reward and what amount of reward is appropriate is difficult not only for children but for adults too. Sometimes being neighborly means that you don’t get paid. In other words, sometimes helping out a neighbor (because they are sick, just had a baby, started a new job, are old, or simply need the help in general) is just the right thing to do- ahem without pay.

The more tangible point of how much is appropriate is a big deal these days. I used to babysit for families for $5/6 an hour back in the early 90s, a good base. Sometimes I got more, maybe around the holidays or randomly. Somehow, though, I recognized that extra money as a bonus I had earned and never felt entitled to the extra money. I felt worthy of it. Of course, the result was that I was motivated to work harder and to do better, but isn’t that the point?

DON’T UNDERESTIMATE YOUR WORTH: I do remember once I babysat for a family and it worked out to be $2 an hour. I was disappointed to say the least. I felt a bit used, even at 13 years old, because I knew my care for this family’s 2 year old was worth more than $2 an hour (another important point the author makes don’t underestimate your worth).

INTEGRATE VOLUNTEERING: Along with earning what would be considered a lot of money for a teenager from babysitting, on the flip side, my mother made certain giving back was part of our life. For example my siblings and I volunteered in the community and I remember distinctly helping out a few elderly people in our neighborhood. Sometimes that required us spending time with them, sometimes raking leaves or shoveling driveways. The point is that my mother made sure we understood that sometimes you need to take care of other people and the reward you receive is knowing that those people are doing better today because of the help you gave them. I won’t lie. I didn’t always look forward to working hard and not getting paid. That lesson is a tough one and takes time to sow into a teenagers’ mind.

As a parent I am absolutely comfortable with my kids accepting money for a job (well done of course) but I will try to make sure they understand that may not be the norm. In other words I will try to instill that helping others out because it is the right, neighborly thing to do is/should be the motivator and not the money. Not an easy virtue to instill; one that will take time to develop and nurture in your kids.

A few ways to try to make this happen:

  1. If your child is overpaid, talk to your child about it and then suggest to your child that he/she offers to do extra chores next time he/she works for that neighbor, or offer to do chore for free on a separate occasion.
  2. If your child has regular paid jobs, research out volunteer opportunities or consider neighbors in your area that may need help but don’t have the money. Make your child part of that process.
  3. Talk to your child about how much they are getting paid, whether he/she thinks the services are worthy of that payment and what he/she may do with the money/reward (half in a savings account, half for fun?)

Thanks for reading!
Marnie

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