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Allowances help teach kids life skills

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013 4:09 p.m. CDT

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Claire and Lucas Urbanski check the refrigerator door each week for a list of chores their parents have assigned to them.

The Crystal Lake twins have to wash the dishes, feed the dog and vacuum the house, among other tasks, which balances out to about five chores apiece and a $10 allowance. Skip a chore and 50 cents is deducted, add a larger job such as cleaning out the car and earn extra cash.

Fail to complete more than one task in a week – the brother and sister lose phone privileges for 24 hours.

“The small allowance incorporates things that they are supposed to be doing with incentives and repercussions,” said Maureen Urbanski, mother of the 14-year-old Bernotas Middle School students. “They always had chores before, but it was kind of just chaotic. It wasn’t working well because we just had to repeat ourselves over and over.”

The parents are not unlike many others who pay their children allowances for doing things around the house, a practice that teaches accountability, responsibility and the value of a dollar, area experts agree. Although common, the reinforcement tool is used differently by each family, and sometimes not used at all.

The positive and negative reinforcement model used by the Urbanski family started last summer as a way for the children to earn money to pay for social activities and items they wanted instead of just giving them money anytime they asked.

Claire and Lucas Urbanski also asked their parents for a more defined way of handling chores each week as the two grew older and their schedules got busier with after-school activities and athletics.

“They had no idea what money was all about until it was their own money,” Maureen Urbanski said. “It has helped. If they want to go to a movie or buy a birthday present for their friends, they can go into their allowance.”

The pair also keep journals of what they have made and spent, and the family also sits down periodically to discuss what is working and not working.

Quite often, children and teens in today’s society have many privileges that are just given to them without any behavioral expectations to earn or retain them, said Dr. Pete Marcelo, a psychologist based in Huntley.

“I’m not a big supporter in the type of allowance that children are given money or a reward at the end of the week without any behavioral expectations like doing chores,” Marcelo said. “I wholeheartedly endorse the practice of giving your child age-appropriate responsibilities that change as they get older and having them earn privileges that most are given anyhow.”

Having an allowance isn’t just about the money for the Urbanski twins, but also has helped the two improve their work ethic and communication skills.

“I know I can’t slack for a week if I have something I have to pay for, and if I am going to do something with my friends, I can save the week before or do something extra,” Claire Urbanski said. “Whenever we asked for money or to do things, we got it. Chores gave us a limit.”

Her brother agreed.

“All the chores are written down every week so there is no confusion about who has to do it, and now I have my own money and know to save some, spend some and not spend it all in one place,” Lucas Urbanski said. “We will switch some chores sometimes because one of us is busier than the other so that everything gets done.”

The Van Witzenburg family takes a different approach to chores.

The Lake in the Hills family includes three sons — a third-grader, an eighth-grader and a sophomore in high school. Each child has daily chores but is not given a weekly or monthly allowance.

The chores generally consist of washing dishes, vacuuming the house and setting the dinner table, with one main task rotated among the three boys each week. They also have to keep their rooms and the bathroom clean.

“My husband and I believe that they do their chores as part of being a family,” said Kim Van Witzenburg, the boys’ mother. “In my mind, I am raising three husbands, and one day my daughter-in-law is going to appreciate that they know how to handle themselves without having to be rewarded for it.”

They can earn extra money by completing extra tasks such as cleaning out the garage or the car.

“It’s a balancing act,” Van Witzenburg said. “When they want money, we will give it to them, within reason. We’re reaching some uncharted water because we just can’t give them money all the time.” 

Marriage and family therapist Dave Evans believes the use of an allowance, depending on how the parent uses it, can teach children about the real world and responsibility.

“If you weave in as much as you can about how the real world works, money is a good teacher of that,” said Evans, who has offices in Inverness and Lake in the Hills. “These lessons become more and more important.”

Being flexible with the child is also important.

“Sometimes there are times when you want to give a gift to your child and not turn it into something where they have to earn everything,” Evans said. “If you have some guidelines so the young person is learning how the world works, that is a good thing.”

And if doing the chores does not come with a monetary reward and is more about being a part of the family, it can “give the kids a sense of purpose because they are contributing to something bigger,” he said.

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