Can your 8-year-old vacuum yet?
Assigning new jobs for children as they mature will develop their work ethic, says Gregg Murset, CEO of BusyKid, a chore and allowance tracking app based in Scottsdale, Ariz. “The most important thing is to challenge them,” he says. “Once they have some proficiency you need to make them stretch to do the next job.”
Mr. Murset, a father of six children ages 10 to 20, believes parents should teach children to do housework when they’re young, no matter if it yields imperfect results. “Even though it’s easier to just clean the toilet by yourself and be done with it, you have to take the long view and realize that these fundamental life skills are so important,” he says.
Attaching an allowance to chores teaches children not to expect handouts, says Michael Eisenberg, a financial advisor in Encino, Calif. and member of the American Institute of CPA’s National Financial Literacy Commission. “At earlier ages, it instills within children the reality that you do something and you get paid for it,” he says. “Later on in life, they learn that the only way we get money is if we produce stuff at our jobs.”
Some 68% of U.S. parents say they pay an allowance to their children, at an average rate of $67.80 per month, according to a 2016 survey of 1,005 adults by the American Institute of CPAs. More than 80% of respondents who pay an allowance say they want to teach their child the value of money and financial responsibility, the survey found.
Below, housework and personal-finance matters that children should be able to master, by age:
5 and under: Grasp the basics
Pick up toys
Parents should teach their children to pick up their toys and clean their bedroom. Hygiene rituals, including brushing teeth and combing hair, can also be assigned as daily jobs. “You need to get young children started on these basics so they will be able to graduate to more important tasks,” says Mr. Murset.
Mr. Eisenberg doesn’t suggest an allowance at this age, but recommends parents show children how to put coins into a piggy bank. “It introduces the concept of money and savings,” says Mr. Eisenberg.
6 to 9: Find new challenges
Take care of pets
Make own bed
Assigning essential tasks like filling the dog bowls with food and water and operating household appliances like the vacuum and dishwasher help build maturity, responsibility and motor skills. “One of my favorites is having them dust the baseboards,” says Mr. Murset. “Their hands are perfect for that and they hardly have to bend over.”
Families should introduce an allowance at this stage and visit a bank together. “Let them watch a teller take the money, do a deposit and see how much they have in their account,” says Mr. Eisenberg. Parents can also offer to match a child’s savings to help reach a goal, like buying a toy. The incentive establishes a savings pattern and mirrors adult retirement savings programs. “Then when they get a real job and their company offers to match 401K contributions, they’re going to be prepared for that.”
10 to 12: Offer choices
Take out trash
Chores that let children make their own decisions are effective confidence boosters, Mr. Murset says. Taking out the trash and walking the garbage and recycling cans to and from the curb require manipulating awkward items and offer a taste of independence, he says. So does making their school lunches. “They can decide what’s in their lunch, and figure out when and how to get it done,” he says.
As chores increase in sophistication and are completed successfully, allowances should rise, too, Mr. Eisenberg says. Parents should help children designate their earnings between spending, savings and even investing. Kids can buy a few shares of companies that make products they’re interested in, such as toy, candy or entertainment companies. “By this age children can grasp an understanding about the different components of money,” says Mr. Eisenberg.
13 to 15: Build ambition
Mow the lawn
Clean the garage
“Teens now need to do the big stuff, like mow the lawn and wash the windows and cars, making sure there are no spots on them,” says Mr. Murset. “The ability to get a job done all the way is a really good skill to have.”
New and more challenging tasks help keep teenagers motivated, he says. “A work ethic has to be developed over time, and as you get harder tasks, you’re becoming better adept taking on those challenges and accomplishing them—that’s the character development piece.”
Given the rise of electronic banking, few children will grow up watching their parents tackle bills each month with a stack of paper statements and a checkbook. Sitting with your teenager as you pay bills online introduces how households now manage finances, and how much everything costs, says Mr. Eisenberg.
16 to 18: Time to grow up
Handle car maintenance
“This is when you start piling on the stuff that they’re actually going to need in the next few years of their life, when they’re adults,” says Mr. Murset. “Have them do their own laundry and cook their own dinner once a week.”
Other adult errands, like grocery shopping and taking the car for an oil change or emissions testing, help them better articulate their needs to strangers, he says. “And if you have a teen with an attitude problem, send them to the DMV, that’s even better,” says Mr. Murset.
At this stage, Mr. Eisenberg wants teenagers to get a summer job outside the home. “That’s how you teach them about income taxes,” he says.
Write to Ellen Byron at firstname.lastname@example.org