Advice to parents from a non-parent

Some of the most often unsolicited pieces of advice people give relate to parenting. Most people giving this advice, especially the most confident ones, are not parents. Well, I would not want to give my last opportunity to give advice to parents, before I become a parent myself (which would obviously taint my pristine theories with messy facts).

  • Be kind to your child. There’s no use in being harsh to “make them tougher” (research shows little effect on the benefits you would expect from being tougher).
  • Be kind to yourself. There’s no use in hurting one’s self for the kids — nobody appreciates it, least of all the kids.
  • Children, like adults, respond to incentives. Give incentives for behaviors you want (asking politely, being nice) and do not give incentives for behaviors you don’t want (crying, making a scene).
  • In particular, instead of allowance, considering paying the kids for chores. Chores get done, everyone is happier. Nagging takes to work not as well, violating both first principles.
  • Instead of buying things for the kids, as soon as they’re old enough to understand the basics, give them money. Make sure to make it clear that they can spend it wisely or foolishly, though not on things they shouldn’t if other rules are at play, but they will not get more if they spend it foolishly. Allow them to use you as a money storage.
  • Money the kids get from gifts is money for the kids. Same rules as money for chores and, if relevant, allowance, applies.
  • Consider staycations with day-trips instead of vacations, especially if you live in a place with interesting day-trip options. Less expensive and less aggravating for everyone.
  • Do not try to give kids “eductional” experiences that they won’t enjoy. They won’t learn anything from it, either. (Science says).
  • In particular, forced (or “strongly encouraged”) sign-ups for after-school classes is a bad idea.

Please comment on this post with more advice! ESPECIALLY if you are not a parent (and therefore, obviously, an expert).


7 Responses to Advice to parents from a non-parent

  1. Marcus says:

    Money for chores is bad advice.
    Two reasons: first, it gives the wrong impression because chores have to be done regardless, and yes, they are not fun, but children need to learn that beeing responsible does not only mean having your own money. Second, if you only give money when things get done, the other way applies as well. Without money involved, nothing gets done. Trust me, this is not a road you want to go down, because kids are clever and soon this will not only apply to chors.
    Bottom line, do not make money your main incentive, play the money card wiseley.

  2. glyph says:

    Money for chores is bad advice.

    Plenty of research shows that extrinsic motivation (“incentives”) actually *reduce* intrinsic motivation; so giving your kids rewards for doing the things that you want them to do actually teaches them that these things are not inherently worth doing, because the only reason to do them is the reward. Since humans reason extremely poorly about incentives, you actually can’t motivate them to do more of something by giving them more examples – and besides, small children (the ones more likely in need of behavior modification) are *even worse* than regular humans at reasoning about incentives or even remembering that incentives are present.

    Teach your children that chores are fun if done for their own sake, and they will remember that, rather than needing constant reminders about their allowance.

    Sadly, this book is written by parents, so it doesn’t satisfy your current requirements, but it’s quite good:

    • moshez says:

      It seems you and I have different goals in chore land.

      For your goals, I agree, paying for chores is silly. My goals are not to teach that chores are fun, for the simple reason that they are not. Eliminate any chore that does not need to be done (for example, nobody needs to make beds). Do not pay for any chore that the child depends on (for example, if they don’t put clothes in the hamper, they need to wear the hand-me-downs). Pay for any chore when doing the chore makes the house life easier (for example, it’s easier to pay for washing the dishes rather than wash the dishes). Yes, it will teach them that “washing dishes is not an intrinsically worthwhile goal”. If that means that when they’re 25, they spring for the more expensive dishwasher which needs less scraping of dishes when they put in dishes, who the hell cares? I’d want my kids to think about how to do away with unpleasant chores.

      You will notice I did not advocate paying for homework — the whole schooling thing needs different attitudes. There I advocate the “choose easy, work hard” methodology: encourage the child to excel at at least one topic they are passionate about. In post-undergrad life (grad school and real jobs) it matters not one whit whether you’re an “A” student in half-a-dozen subject, but it is helpful to be REALLY good in one or two subjects (AKA “your job”).

      I will note here that I grew up something of a “spoiled brat” — my parents rarely had me do chores. When I lived on my own, I minimized chores by hiring a cleaning service, using a yard bag so that the once-in-two-weeks cleaner would take out the trash, using a wash&fold service, using disposable dishes and using an Israeli style duvet-cover which goes around the duvet, and so does not require some complicated bed making before going to sleep. Somehow, doing zero chores until I got married at age 35 did not make me a horrible and/or useless human being. If the lesson my kids learn is that chores are annoying, and you want to optimize them out by paying money when you can afford it, I see little problem with it.

  3. Ken Whitesell says:

    I’m going to jump on the “money for chores is a bad idea” bandwagon – and I’m a strong believer in an allowance.

    Our approach with the kids (now 15 and 14) is that a household takes work to run, and everyone needs to help.

    Everyone in the family has a role. Each person is expected to fulfill the responsibilities of that role.

    Are you familiar with the children’s story “The Little Red Hen”? If not, the basic message is that if you don’t share in the work, you don’t deserve to share in the profits. (The profits in this case is the use of the house, food, utilities, TV, computers, etc)

    Regarding the allowance, we’ve taken the approach that the financial resources of the house are “community property”, much like the food, usage of space, utilities, etc; and as members of the household, they are entitled to share those resources to a commensurate degree.

    We don’t tie the allowance to the chores because we don’t want them looking at the allowance as a “salary” which can be negotiated or refused to avoid doing work. The work must be done regardless. Also, we recognize situations where they aren’t able to get their chores done, but still should get their allowance. (Busy times at school, Scout camp, Violin camp, vacations, etc)

    Finally, my opinion is that the lessons learned from doing chores isn’t necessarily associated with the specific chore itself, but an attitude about assuming responsibility for things that need to be done, and being willing to pitch in and help when you see a need.

    • moshez says:

      I never did chores, with the fairly rare exception of taking out the garbage, so it’s hard to convince me that doing chores teaches any kind of useful lesson…unless my goal is to make sure that my kids don’t end up writing a blog post similar to mine 🙂

      I don’t see “busy times” as a good reason to give free money — just pay them enough for chores during the non-busy times, that overall the money/year is a reasonable allowance. It is a useful lesson, I think, more useful than doing chores, that money comes and goes and one must squirrel away some for the times when one makes less money. Like any lesson taught kids, it doesn’t have to be harsh — I can see myself saying “I know you were busy and didn’t have time to do chores this month. You might want to think about future busy times, and make sure you have some savings, but until then, here’s the money for the next two months’ worth of chores, interest-free. Just try to be more careful in the future”.

      Out of curiosity, what goes on the list of chores?

      • Ken Whitesell says:

        To answer your question – a “chore” is anything that needs to be done around the house to keep it functioning well. That includes taking out the trash, various cleaning duties (dusting, vacuuming, mopping, scrubbing, etc), helping out with fixing meals, loading / unloading the dishwasher, doing laundry – along with the less regular items like fixing window screens, plumbing and household electrical work, and any of the other things that need to be done. If it’s something my wife or I need to do, one of the kids is with us the entire time until they learn how to do it, and then *they* do it the next time.

        Regarding the ‘free money’, it’s a difference of perspective. I already provide “free” food, “free” clothes, “free” housing, “free” electricity, etc. Those items are all “benefits” of being members of the family. The cash is just one more resource in that list – they get their appropriate share of it.

        This approach has actually saved all the hassles that come with negotiating a “wage” for each chore – and immediately prevents the argument that something out of the ordinary isn’t already on the list of things to do.

  4. Hila says:

    I strongly advice non-parents which are even not professionals in any field that has something to do with parenting not to give parenting advices.

    First, have some parenting experience (either personal or professional). Then, be sensitive. Then, remember each kid has his/her own and very unique personality. What’s right for my kid might be sooooo wrong for yours.
    And the most important advice – wait till you’re asked for advice!

    Being a parent means making mistakes. Each day. Each hour. And acknowledging these mistakes.
    The most important parenting teacher you’ll ever have is your own kid.

    Yes, you can read a million books and articles about parenting. If you’ll stick too strongly to what you read, it will only make you and your kid frustrated. And this advice IS based on experience.

    If there’s something I really do not appreciate after almost 3 years of parenting it is over-confident advice givers.
    Thanks god, my kid forgave me for the mistakes I made because of them 😉

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