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My 4-years old daughter recently started to ask for ways to earn money. I think this comes from watching the Duck Tales cartoons with Scrooge McDuck swimming in money, but she was interested in it earlier than that.

While there's plenty of ideas about it on the web it mostly falls into three categories or a mix of them:

  1. Actually earning money by doing something like garage sell, starting a blog, youtube channel & etc. I don't think 4 years is the right age for that.
  2. Unconditional monthly/weekly allowance. Just giving some amount of money each month/week.
  3. Paying for chores, keeping the room clean & etc.

I believe that putting the toys away, keeping the room clean, helping out parents with chores, doing exercise, or homework should be normal and shouldn't be rewarded.

Right now I'm thinking about a mix of 2 and 3, where she starts with an amount each week (let's say 10$, the amount is just for example). And then based on her "performance" during the week, the amount can get grow or decrease. For example, for every tantrum she throws minus 20c, if the room is clean at the end of the day +30c.

However, independently on her "performance", she gets at least 3$. So she can't end-up getting nothing. What do you think about this approach?

Please also share your approaches, I'm open to any suggestions.

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    What makes you think a four (!) years old child should earn money at all? Paying for natural things like chores probably give a completely wrong understanding of how living in a house works, she will not do anything without negotiating money for that. Holy cow, please for the sake of everyone involved stop this idea immediately! – puck Aug 16 at 9:20
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I like the general idea of the approach, but not some of the specifics.

For example, for every tantrum she throws minus 20c

Please don't charge your child for showing emotion, even if she does it to manipulate. The stakes are just too high (potential for it to be a traumatizing lesson), and while you may be good at telling insincere tantrums from sincere ones, you'll never be perfect.

if the room is clean at the end of the day +30c

Are you going to track all these small things in a spreadsheet? Sounds like a lot... and certainly more than her mental math will appreciate.

Instead, I agree with your earlier point that minor chores like keeping her room clean should be normal and not rewarded. If you avoid associating money with them, you'll both encourage their normalcy and avoid tabulating a hundred little behaviours. (That said, you could maybe dock pay for not doing them.)

Instead, I think there should be distinct opportunities to do more significant things that aren't done every day. Surely you have a list of things around the house that need doing, that you rarely get to because you're caught up with regular chores. For example, maybe you want to redo the hanging of that bookshelf that's sagging (or go through the books and see which ones you can donate to a thrift store!), or sort through the clutter in the garage / tool room, or digitize your parents' photo albums, or paint the hallway a new colour, or steam-clean the carpet, or take down the curtains for their annual cleaning, or restring your guitar, or alphabetize your CDs, or go through the pile of coupons that come in the mail and throw out the expired ones while planning a time to treat yourself with a family meal deal for $5 off... and so on.

Each of those tasks could be an occasion for her to help you out, follow your directions, and try new things that make her slightly more aware of what she can set her mind to. It's great if they're things she can be of actual help with (laying newspaper on the ground so you can paint), but even if not, she's still learning about the concept of a paid "job" instead of routine tidiness. And of course you can give her a minimum regardless of performance — if she shows up.

What about weeks when you have no job for her, or no time to do it yourself? Well then, either she can come up with them and become entrepreneurial, or you can put her on EI. ;)

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    I upvoted your very helpful answer (with which I agree wholeheartedly), but omg, do you have a four year old? – anongoodnurse Aug 13 at 16:46
  • @anongoodnurse No children yet... just Sunday school teaching experience, teacher training, and memory of childhood, all of which I know differ from the real thing. Hence I don't answer nearly as much as I read :p – Luke Sawczak Aug 13 at 17:40
  • By the by, is your name "anon(ymous) good nurse" or "a non-good nurse"? The second seems unlikely but the question occurs to me every time I see it come up! – Luke Sawczak Aug 13 at 17:42
  • I've been asked many times. I am a 'good' non-nurse (a non [good nurse]). I like Shakespeare, and the line "Anon, good nurse!" appears in R&J. :) I also like the ambiguity of the name. – anongoodnurse Aug 13 at 20:03
  • @anongoodnurse Thanks for enlightening me! – Luke Sawczak Aug 14 at 1:09
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What we did was a combination of 1 and 2, at that age. 3 is harder, I think, and I don't really agree with penalizing monetarily for behavior at 4 years old; it's too much out of her control still at that point. But certainly up to you.

My kids have an allowance that is based on the formula [amount of money] * [years old] per week. Amount of money is determined by your personal circumstances; a quarter per year per week, a dollar per year per week, whatever. The reason for the 'per year' is to grow it naturally as they get older, and to not disadvantage either the older one or the younger one: they both get the same total over time. This is a fixed allowance, it never shrinks (unless we were to have a major shift in finances or something of course), and is not based on any particular action. The purpose of this allowance is to get the feeling of saving and spending money, and to be able to make some choices without parental input. (We mostly don't limit their spending of this money, with a few exceptions.) At four years old, that money was basically the "mommy I want that car" at walmart, or else saving for a slightly bigger toy (like a Thomas train that was $15, we'd talk about saving for # weeks).

At four, we also had occasional toy sales. We only did this twice, I think, but it worked well; just a lot of work on our part, so not a frequent thing. I've seen other families do it more often. The kid doesn't have to run the garage sale themselves; the key here is for them to choose things they don't want anymore, but still things that are good toys, and reward them for doing that. This was an effective way at culling the toy hoard, and they got some money out of it. If you don't want to actually do a garage/yard sale, you could easily change this up: there are second-hand stores that buy good condition used toys, or even places like Goodwill that take toy donations. You could give her a quarter (or a dime or a dollar or whatever) for each toy that she picked to donate, if you go that route.

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  • Wonderful answer! "...it worked well; just a lot of work on our part, so not a frequent thing..." Lol! In medicine, residents have a saying: "Show me a medical student who doesn't triple my work and I'll kiss [their] feet." Pretty much the same for every kid in the world! Helping them to help themselves is a lot of work! – anongoodnurse Aug 13 at 16:51
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At 4 years old the big thing you want to teach is simply what money is for and how to use it. Let her experience:

  • Having money, including knowing how much. The idea that money comes in coins and notes of different denominations is likely to be news to her. If she has seen you hand over a single bank note and get a load of change she probably thinks you were getting more money, not less. You can teach her how to count her money, and show how a pile of coins can be worth less than a single bank note.

  • Choosing something to spend it on, which also means understanding how much money she has and what it will buy. At her age money probably means "magic way of getting stuff" without any understanding of cost.

  • Exchanging the money for a thing she wants. "I had money, now I don't" is going to be a new idea.

  • Making a bad choice: if she blows it all on a bag of sweets that lasts 1 hour and then has no money the rest of the week, well that's a learning experience.

The trouble with paying for chores or good behaviour is that it puts a price on non-compliance. What do you do when the child decides that its worth the price?

Also 4 years old is a bit early to make the emotional connection between not doing the chore and not getting pocket money at the end of the week, and they may even struggle with the logical connection. With discipline at any age you want the time between act and consequence to be as short as possible, and the more so the younger the child.

On yard sales, it would be perfectly reasonable in the run-up to a birthday or Christmas to say "We need to get rid of some of your toys to make room for new ones" and then hold a sale with the money going to the child. That way your child doesn't feel that the toys are merely being confiscated, which helps in negotiating what gets sold. However that might be a more advanced lesson: let her get a feel for having some money each week first. When she understands what her regular pocket money will buy she will have a better appreciation of how much her old toys might be worth.

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