By Mariam G. MacGregor, M.S., author of Building Everyday Leadership in All Kids
Our three kids don’t earn money for doing chores. In fact, we rarely use the word “chores” around our house. When a job needs to be done, they are asked to do it. They do not grumble (most of the time), and the job is done as requested. When there are big jobs to do—washing a car, picking up the endless number of pinecones that fall in our yard, or cleaning the garage—our kids earn money if they take the initiative to do the job without being asked. Not a lot of money, but fair enough to acknowledge the independent steps they took.
Unpaid chores, we have taught, are their contribution to being part of a family. Instead, if they want to earn money they can do so by fulfilling expectations of a leadership “chore” chart—what we call a “Paw Chart,” because the stickers used as markers look like dog paw prints. To earn a paw print, the kids complete a leadership action in various categories, which we’ve determined together and written on a piece of poster board. The list changes as the kids get older or certain patterns arise that our family agrees are creating bad vibes (for example, being argumentative). Examples of paw-print-worthy leadership actions have included:
- Listening the first time
- Being respectful of one another
- Random acts of kindness (self-identified)
- Random acts of kindness (recognized by others—earn two paw prints!)
- Getting ready for school/sports/activities with no reminders
- Putting away laundry without being asked
- Keeping room clean without being asked
- Cooperating and not being argumentative or talking back to prove a point
- Staying calm and resolving differences together (with no adult)
- Walking away instead of arguing or trying to be right
- Saying yes and being positive
- Cooperating with one another—no questions asked and no “buts”
- Showing initiative around the house
- Brother/sister “wild card” (paw print given freely to someone else because of something special they did without being asked or asking to be noticed)
- Volunteering to help someone outside the family
Obviously, earning paw prints in some categories is easier than others, but earning five paw prints in the same category won’t earn money. Instead, earning one paw print in five different categories earns a dollar. They can get paid every week, or they can wait a few weeks, count up all their sets of five, and then collect. If they choose to put any of their paw-print money into their savings account (it’s not required), we double their deposit.
When our kids were young, paw prints could be earned by staying in bed after the lights were turned out or getting ready for school and after school activities without needing reminders. Transfer this to a kindergarten classroom, and you’ll have kids who’re prepared to follow the rhythm and pattern of the classroom without needing reminders. And while they’re completing tasks such as cleaning up after themselves, organizing their belongings, or washing art brushes, they’re also practicing leadership skills (time management, initiative, responsibility) they’ve learned at home.
Earning paw prints is balanced in age-appropriate ways. In other words, our six-year-old is not expected to show the same level of initiative as our ten-year-old, who is not expected to show the same level of autonomy as our fourteen-year-old. At each age, they are expected to apply increasingly complex, but still age-appropriate, leadership behaviors and attitudes to each “job.”
We’ve asked our kids if they think they should earn an allowance for doing chores. They have consistently said no, sharing that they like coming up with ideas for earning money. Last year, when our sons decided to make and sell paracord bracelets, we commented on their resourcefulness for seizing a trend to earn money. They earned over $150 “selling” the bracelets at no set price, telling kids to pay what they wanted, and giving a lot of bracelets away for free. When their sales were done, we were amazed when they announced they were donating the money to a program for special-needs kids where they volunteer instead of keeping it. That’s how a leadership chore chart can shift thinking!
This type of chore chart isn’t for everyone, I know. But if you are inspired by the idea of having kids who understand that mopping the floors and emptying the dishwasher are simply responsibilities of being a in family, perhaps a leadership chore chart tied to building character (plus a little pocket change) is for you.
Do you have a twist on the traditional that you use to inspire leadership from a young age?
Mariam G. MacGregor, M.S., founded and runs Youthleadership.com, an online clearinghouse and resource center for individuals working with youth leaders. A former school counselor and coordinator of leadership programs at an alternative high school, she consults with organizations, writes, and presents workshops about youth leadership. Her curriculum, Building Everyday Leadership in All Teens, received the Distinguished Achievement Award from the Association of Educational Publishers. She lives in Morrison, Colorado.
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