How to “Unspoil” Your Young Children

by Alexa Mason · 23 comments

Around six months ago, I declared I was going to “unspoil” my kids.

My kids are pretty well-behaved, but I wanted to start teaching them about responsibility and the value of a dollar.

Even though my kids are young — three and five — I’ve still found some ways to start instilling financial responsibility in them.

Here are several ways to unspoil your young children and teach them about money:

Give them simple chores — without pay

As a child, I was never made to do any chores. No washing the dishes, running the vacuum, or even cleaning my room. I think this was a big mistake.

My mom, who worked a day job, tried to do it all — but could never really keep up. Instead of making her three children contribute to the household, she overworked herself. Since this was all I knew, I thought it was normal. Now that I know differently, I don’t want my kids to think they never have to make household contributions.

When children are given age-appropriate jobs to do each day or week, it begins to instill a sense of responsibility in them. Even very young kids should have a regular set of unpaid responsibilities, and they shouldn’t have to be bribed for these basic tasks.

For example, my three- and five-year-old daughters help me fold laundry. They also clean their own rooms, help with dishes, and pick up their toys after they’re finished playing.

As you can imagine, kids this age aren’t going to clean to an adult’s standards — but that’s not the point. As long as my kids are putting in their best effort to help me, I don’t criticize their work. (Though I may correct it when they’re not looking!)

Pay them for extra jobs

Even though I think that children shouldn’t be paid for their regular chores, I do support paying them to do extra work.

My oldest daughter will often ask if I have any jobs for her, so she can “feed” her piggy bank with a dollar or two. I’ll let her dust or (try to) sweep, or do some other small job so that she can earn her own money. This shows her how to work to get what she wants.

Let them spend their own money

When my kids have accumulated a few bucks, I’ll let them take their money to the store and spend it.

By doing this, they understand that it takes several dollars to buy something they really want. Sometimes my five-year-old will bring the money back home and continue to save. My three-year-old, on the other hand, can make a few bucks go pretty far, and is always happy to add to her headband collection.

Just say “no”

Have you ever stood in line behind someone with a young child screaming and crying over a toy or candy bar they want? Well, that might have been me.

When my oldest daughter was three, I had a terrible time not giving in to her wants. I’d tell her no, and she’d scream and cry and make a terrible scene in the middle of the store. Out of sheer embarrassment, I’d give in. When I expressed my frustrations to a family member, she gave me wonderful advice: “Be the woman everyone stares at. Stop worrying what everyone else thinks.” That’s exactly what I did.

After a few of those monstrous scenes in the checkout line, holding a child who was screaming so loudly that you could hear her across a football field, I finally made some progress. It wasn’t too long afterwards that my daughter realized she wasn’t going to get everything she wanted.

Now, before entering any store, I give both of my girls a talk. We go over exactly what we’re going to buy — and whether or not they’ll get anything. The best part? They listen!

There are several ways to unspoil your children and teach them good money habits. The earlier you start teaching your kids about responsibility, work, and money, the easier it will be — for both you and them.

Do your kids need an unspoiling? How are you going to put your plan into practice? 

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • jonna ward says:

    I have a 2 year old son and even though he’s too young for this thing, I still want him to be trained and be responsible enough for making decisions in the future. So while he’s young, I’ll make sure that I showed to him the proper things and teachings that he could pick up, slowly but surely he could understand. Thanks for this post and guide.

  • Nice post . says:

    I strongly believe parents should not give in to children demands, when teaching them responsibility is our concern .

  • Argie says:

    I really wanted to see that jobs chart, but the domain is for sale! 🙁

    • David Ning says:

      I just checked and the link to myjobchart.com still works. Are you using the hyperlink? If you prefer to type in the domain name, make sure the spelling (especially the lack of plurals) are in there correctly.

      • Argie says:

        I did use the hyperlink and somehow got to a “Domain Sale” site. When
        I clicked on the link in the message you sent, I went right to the
        site. Mysterious, eh? Thanks. My granddaughter is going to love it.
        Ruth

  • David Ning says:

    The key to saying no for our family is to not flip flop on the decision. Once we say no, then it’s final. We also try to let my 4 year old know that whining just makes things worst.

    It’s worked so far, though I’m sure it gets harder as the children get older!

    • Mark says:

      Actually – and I can’t say this from experience, my daughter is still very little – but if you’re tough when they’re young, it gets easier when they’re older because you’ve already laid down that foundational standard for behavior and values. Would be interested to hear from any experienced parents if they agree with this.

      • Kate says:

        Mark, you’re absolutely right; if you start out at the beginning with firm, unchanging rules and always use the same words when putting them forth, before the child is school age she hears your voice in her head before she makes a move or says a word. In fact, our adult Sunday School class talked about that one week. A woman whose mother had just died asked, “Do you think my Mama can still see me?” and someone said, “Your Mama can ALWAYS see you.” The loving conversation that ensued proved the truth of this. And the up side of this? Well, I had full care of my nephews from the time they were 3 years old, and people who saw us coming to an adults-only event would roll their eyes…until the children would sit quietly and play with the small toys they had brought — and listen and pay attention as well. (And as Steven said once, “People who say thank you get more presents.”)

        • Mark says:

          Kate, that is awesome to hear! That’s our goal for our children as well. The best advice I’ve ever heard about raising kids was from a marriage conference my wife and I attended where the speaker said to set very strict boundaries while they’re young, then you can give them more freedom without worry as they get older.

          Too many parents do the opposite. They’re not strict enough at a young age and then find themselves having to crack down more as they get older, which just fosters rebellion and a lot of heartache and frustration.

          When you raise kids, you’re training them to live on their own in the world, so you have to give them more freedom and responsibility as they get older. The problem is if you haven’t trained them to exercise self-control from a young age, then they become increasingly out of control as they get older.

          A friend of mine who has kids older than mine did exactly as the conference speaker suggested with his kids and they’re incredibly well behaved at ages 7 and 3. In fact, the older one, a girl, comes home from school and asks her dad why all the other kids are so out of control!

          • Kate says:

            The boys used to ask me why people looked at them “that way” when we came into a nice restaurant or the first class lounge at the railroad station, or an afternoon ballet or concert. I told them to watch the way the other kids behaved and they’d figure it out. As they’d say today, “Don’t be those kids.”

          • Mark says:

            Kate, how cool is that! To get a little more broadly philosophical, you’re doing a great service for society. I think the reason we have so many out of control people in society today is because nobody taught them self control when they were kids.

      • David Ning says:

        That’s good to know. I’ll have to continuing exploring the fine line between tough and over-the-top!

  • Marcia says:

    I like this. I am just now trying to get my 7 year old to help more with chores. I think because his 18 month old brother LOVES to “help” wash dishes and take his dishes into the kitchen and “fold” laundry.

    It’s hard to say no. I know that my husband and I had a rash of months saying “yes” when we were overworked at work and sleep deprived with the new baby. Even now the 7 year old tries screaming and trying when he doesn’t get his way and it only makes it LESS likely that he’ll get his way. “I’m sorry I’m sorry”. That’s nice, but you cannot watch a TV show until tomorrow night when your homework is done.

    It’s hard, and it’s slow going, but it does work.

  • Kate says:

    P.S. A good way to teach a child what things cost is to let her put things on Lay-Away and pay on them every week. That shows them how much the toy costs, teaches deferred gratification, and lets them have what they want — eventually.

  • Kate says:

    My Mama had 4 daughters and a full time job (she and Daddy both worked full time and never earned more than $15,000 a year between them), and chores were definitely Us. I was the oldest and was in charge of overseeing the doing of the chores that had to be done between the time we got home from school and the time Mama got home from work. This taught me how to negotiate, compromise, bribe, cajole, wheedle and threaten as the situation demanded, and this set me in good stead when I started college and had roommates. I have seen several good examples of how to handle the shrieking tot. My favourite was the woman who grabbed the New York Post and held it in front of her red-faced brat — pointing to a picture of Brittney Spears having a tantrum — and shouted, “DO YOU WANT TO GROW UP LIKE THAT?” Oddly enough, it worked. My youngest sister was very strict with her kids, and a fundamentalist Christian. One day I had two of her children (ages 4 and 2) at FAO Schwarz when someone threw herself to the floor, kicking and screaming for a toy. Steven (aged 4) walked over and looked down at her, made eye contact, and said conversationally, “You’re going to Hell.” Then he walked away. Never saw a child quit screaming as quickly as that!

  • Amy says:

    We always had to clean our rooms as children, and each had a different job. My job was to feed the pet rabbits and my sister was in charge of the cat, so that we had a daily job that was ours. It definitely taught me responsibility from a young age.

  • It’s good to let children learn to save for what they want to buy, then they discover after some time that they do not have the thing that they are saving for, it was just the moment “want” and as a parent, it is good and sit down and explain the phenomenon for their children, they learn a lot about the economy then.

  • Instilling financial discipline early really goes a long way. More than anything, it prompts children to view saving not as an act of obligation but of responsibility. And this branches out to the cultivation of even more positive traits! From what I have observed, people who learn saving at an early age grow to be very organized individuals. Good decision-making skills and restraint on the non-essential are likely to develop as well.

  • Love this! I don’t have kids yet, but when I do, they will definitely do age appropriate chores. That’s what I did when I grew up and even though sometimes I didn’t like that my friend’s parents did their own laundry for them, I realized even then that I was learning responsibility from it. I also have feared that grocery store situation! I’ve been behind those moms in line and hate to see them give in – but I would do the same thing to keep them quiet. Awesome that your kids no longer do that after a few agonizing learning experiences!

  • Gina Mero says:

    I stare at that parent with the screaming child is because I want to know how long it takes for the weak parent to give in and give the child what it wants, then I tsk because the kid is in decline. I don’t care if your kid screams, I care when you cave. In the past when my kids went to the store with me they had the pleasure of each picking out a chip flavor or a cookie or ice cream…something junky they wanted that I did not buy otherwise. When we arrived at the counter to pay they asked for a POS item and I would tell them, ‘sure, pick what you plan to put back in it’s place.’ They quickly seen that the big bag-o-chips would last longer than the small candy. Honestly, because I never said yes, they don’t ask. And when they do ask for things I’ve always said, “if you have the money, sure.” My kids are now older and I do give them money not tied to chores. They have things they have to do because they are part of this family but I do not tie it to money. When they misbehave and do not do their chores, phones, tv, lap tops, and game controllers disappear for a week – no take backs. Each child receives $250 a month on a credit card (rates have gone up over the years due to age and need) $50 goes to savings for big ticket items, $30 pays their phone bill, and the rest is for personals and incidentals such as birthday parties, movies, pictures with a team or group outing. I’m able to monitor the card by looking at the balance and way they spend. I do not give them any money above that amount, ever. If they overspend and are tapped out by mid month and get invited to the mall & movies – TOUGH. It’s not for everyone but it works for us. This started when they were 8,9,10 respectively and you will be very surprised at the things they wanted from you until they have to pay themselves then they forgo so much extra it’s not funny. Friends gifts are based on where the party is held and the friends rank; whereas when I paid it was open season. I stand by the way I’ve done it. I’v never read Dave Ramsey, I’ve never been broke, filed for bankruptcy, or owed a balance on any credit card ever and I’m hoping by our example and thought provoking techniques my kids never do either. I’ve tried to teach them two things that should help in life, #1 ALWAYS, ALWAYS ask for a lawyer, do not speak to the cops without one, no matter what they say. #2 The House ALWAYS takes a cut (this is tied to interest rates, credit cards, no free lunches ever, ect.) Words to live by. (Oh, and my oldest kid started having meltdowns over what I don’t know, he flat laid down in a store once and screamed and thrashed and slobbered – I had a baby and was pregnant again so I took a seat on a bench 5 feet away and watched him as he flailed…my eyes never left the floor and it was uncomfortable but no one at the store mattered to me, my child did. He eventually tired and sat up, I held my hands out and he came to me. I hugged him, wiped his tears, and we left…never to see any of those people again)

  • Mark says:

    This is really good stuff. Dave Ramsey believes not in giving allowance, but giving commission for chores. I believe there should be a base set of chores kids should do without pay because they’re part of the household, but extra jobs they get paid a commission. I also think it’s a good idea to get kids started early with setting aside 10% for savings and 10% for giving, whether it’s to church or a charity.

  • No is such a helpful little word to use. 🙂 We’ve had our share of those checkout line meltdowns and started using the same trick of speaking with them before going in to the store. It’s not perfect, but it has gone a long way to help us. I also find that giving them age appropriate responsibilities is huge as well. If it’s a struggle for them we try to instill a little fun into it in order to motivate them to want to get it done.

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