Allowance Guidelines vs. Rules with Thoughts from Barbara Coloroso’s Book About Raising Children, kids are worth it

“Kids who are consistently bribed and rewarded will spend a lot of energy trying to figure out what they can do to please (or upset) their parents, and they will have no time or energy left to develop their own capacity to realistically evaluate their own abilities, deeds, and goals.”

— Barbara Coloroso, kids are worth it, page 56

Barbara Coloroso knows a thing or two about raising kids. She’s not only raised three kids of her own but also spent her life as an educator. What’s more, Barbara’s an internationally recognized speaker and consultant on parenting, teaching, school discipline, positive school climate, bullying, grieving, nonviolent conflict resolution and restorative justice. I recently read her insightful and inspiring book, kids are worth it (lowercase intended).

Barbara’s book could alternately be titled The Art of Raising Kids with Dignity. And if you don’t have time to read it, then listen to her enlightening discussion with host Shane Parris on The Knowledge Project podcast.

Guidelines Rather than Rules

“When you hit, you sit.”

Barbara emphasizes the importance of having guidelines rather than rules for raising your kids. You do need some rules, however. For example, “When you hit, you sit.” When siblings commit assault, they should be given some sort time out. This is a rule. The time to sort out the why and how to fix the situation should be done later.

In general, though, we should consider guidelines instead. For example…

If it’s not hurting and it’s not life-threatening…

Barbara employs this useful guideline — if it’s not hurting and it’s not life-threatening, then let it go. This is admittedly tough to employ, particularly when your oldest child is purposefully turning the trash chore into something that sounds like an avalanche. I suppose her purpose is to do the chore so poorly that she’ll be relieved of her duties. I have learned from personal experience (e.g., expressing exasperation about the noise) that if the chore is getting done, then becoming irritated about something that isn’t hurting or threatening my life doesn’t help.

Maintain your child’s dignity.

Barbara’s primary guideline is that parents should maintain the dignity of the child. I found this strategy helpful. My wife and I rethought a number of techniques (more like rules) we had employed like grounding and time-outs because, as Barbara correctly points out, these approaches rarely accomplish their intended purposes. 

For example, our go-to punishment used to be grounding. The rule was that if you don’t do your chores, then you were punished. Given a time-out. Sometimes grounded. Until we realized that rather than improved behavior, we were just fostering increased vitriol towards us (the parental units). And, of course, there is no dignity in grounding.

Disciplining effectively and with dignity is not easy (and admittedly a work in progress in our house), but Barbara convinced me that it’s worth the effort. Much of her book had me looking for the reset button, particularly when I began to reflect on my tendency to raise my voice in order to convince my kids to do what I wanted them to do. This strategy works in the short term, but it certainly doesn’t help their dignity. Also, I don’t feel particularly good about myself afterwards either.

“Simple, clear purpose and principles give rise to complex and intelligent behavior. Complex rules and regulations give rise to simple and stupid behavior.”     

— Dee Hock

So maybe you’re asking yourself, “How does this apply to raising money-smart kids?”

While rules are hard and fast, guidelines provide the scaffolding around which you build your program to raise money-smart kids. Barbara’s approach is very much in keeping with the ethos of The Art of Allowance.

Sometimes you need to change direction.

Guidelines offer the direction you get with rules, but with the flexibility to change routes. Kind of like when your GPS wants to send you down a street that will require you to turn left onto a busy boulevard. A guideline is that voice inside your head that understands the rule (go south) but knows how to adjust (go one more street east – the one with a stoplight).

It’s important to set up an allowance and not to give in to your child when she doesn’t have enough money for what she wants in the store. You know from previous posts that yes, a tantrum may ensue. This is simply something you’ll have to endure. It may be embarrassing, but remember Barbara’s guideline, “If it’s not hurting and it’s not life-threatening…”

Guidelines give you flexibility…

It’s a hot summer day, and you’re out with your child. She has the Spend Smart money that you told her to bring to satisfy her wants. She asks you for ice cream. Treating what you told her as a guideline instead of as a rule gives you the flexibility you want. Because, of course, it’s okay to buy her ice cream! 

The reward for a thing well done, is to have done it.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

In this case, your flexibility in giving her an unexpected reward not only won’t short circuit your teaching but also gives you a priceless moment with your child. 

Below is an example of one of those unexpected rewards that I include in my book, The Art of Allowance.

One mom recalled a time when her daughter was agonizing over a purchase decision. She knew her daughter had only enough money to purchase one of the two items, yet her daughter didn’t try to whine her into submission. Mom sympathized with her daughter’s thoughtful consideration and appreciated her money-smart attitude. Mom felt compelled, in this one instance, to purchase the second item for her daughter. She felt this one-time reward wouldn’t impede her daughter’s progress toward money empowerment. Mom’s action was such a rarity that the look on her daughter’s face was priceless. Seeing that kind of appreciation is a wonderful thing to behold.

The Art of Allowance, page 91

You’ll likely encounter many instances in which you’ll be happy that you’ve set guidelines instead of rules. I address another such example in this post.

You might also be interested to know that Barbara gave her kids an allowance.

Since my children are not paid for everyday chores, I am often asked if I ever give my children money. Yes, I do give them an allowance for three reasons: to learn how to handle money, to make decisions about their own money, and to set financial priorities.

Barbara Coloroso, kids are worth it, page 245


Photo credit: Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash