Laura on Life: Chores won't get you a Lamborghini

A good work ethic is developed over time. No child is born with it. So, if you ever hope to have help put on a new roof someday, you have to train your children to have a good work ethic.

A good work ethic is developed over time. No child is born with it. So, if you ever hope to have help put on a new roof someday, you have to train your children to have a good work ethic.

You start by not calling it work. There will come a time when your child will realize that every time you want to "play a game" it means that the hall closet needs to be cleaned out or that someone had flung toothpaste on the toilet seat again. But until that time "Let's play a game" is a good way to develop a good work ethic.

The first time you say "Let's play a game" and they groan and vanish into thin air, you'll know the jig is up. Then you need to start offering incentives (aka bribes).

"I've got cookies and milk for anyone who cleans their room before they go to bed!"

Of course, you've always got that one child who thinks he should have cookies and milk anyway. This is the child who will one day call you at 3 p.m. in the morning because he can't get your car out of the ditch because his "friend" puked in the driver's seat.


I digress. Cookies and milk.

There will also come a time when your children realize that food stuffs and praise will not buy them a Nerf gun and so nothing says "I need a volunteer" like cold, hard cash.

My children have daily chores that they do just because it needs to be done. They don't get an allowance for that because there will always be jobs they have to do where there is no compensation whatsoever. However, they know that if they want to earn some money, I've always got a list of jobs that are "for pay."

One pearl of wisdom that I have learned in 26 years of motherhood is that if you need a job done, simply take the kids to Walmart. Show them what's available if only they had enough money. The key here is that you must not let them talk you into buying what they want, even if they have a meltdown right there in the Lego aisle. You simply give them an opportunity to earn it.

In time, they will be falling all over themselves to take on the "paying jobs" before any of their siblings snatch them all up. They will do whatever it takes: Cleaning the garage, bleaching grout, painting the deck, cleaning the spider webs out from between the storm windows, you name it.

This works so well that I have begun to leave Toys R Us circulars around the house. When they want something to read at night, I give them a BMX magazine and Go-Cart Digest.

Alas, there will again come a time when this doesn't work any longer either. Maybe they realize that there's no room to drive a go-cart on our half-acre lot. Maybe someone at school knocked his teeth out of his head on a BMX and now he talks with a lisp. Perhaps they simply outgrew the idea and realized that what they really wanted was a Lamborghini. I've got smart kids. They know that getting a Lamborghini is not possible by raking leaves or washing windows. They've done the math.

So then you start issuing subtle threats like: "Do you like sleeping on a bed?" Or, "Would you like to continue eating three square meals a day?" These work, but nobody likes to work under duress. As Tom Sawyer discovered, it's so much easier when someone wants to do the work.


Then they go to college and it takes an act of God to get help. So you hire a kid for the yard work who still has visions of go-carts dancing in his head. Then, when you need a roof put on, you appeal to your child's sense of guilt.

"Remember all those years I didn't strangle you?"

Their memory is not as clear on these things as yours is, so if you need a roof put on, you simply have to supply the beer and pizza.

Laura Snyder is a nationally syndicated columnist, author and speaker. You can reach her at , or visit her Web site for more information.

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