Parenting advice to curb irresponsibility, excuses and “blame games” and boost trustworthiness, accountability and kid responsibility
Any of these sound familiar?
“Take care of this for me.”
“It wasn’t my fault.”
“I did some of it, but I left it on the bus.”
“I don’t know where I put it.”
They are statements of irresponsible kids and part of a growing trend I call the “Big Brat Factor.” Kids with an irresponsible attitude rarely stop to consider how their actions affect others, and so their attitude is selfish. The world revolves around them, so someone else will—(and should in their minds)–do their jobs, wake them up, find their toys, and replace lost items they “misplaced.” If they do err, they usually never admit their mistakes, apologize, or take ownership. After all, “It’s someone else’s fault.” In fact, usually everyone but them is responsible for their irresponsibility.
If this attitude isn’t turned around, it will dramatically impact every area in our kids’ present and future lives: academic, moral, professional, emotional and social.
The replacement attitudes of responsibility, trustworthiness, and reliability are essential for our kids’ moral character and future well-being. So let’s get started!
Five Steps to Boost Reliability and Responsibility
Here are a few steps from my book, Don’t Give Me That Attitude!, to help curb kid irresponsibility and boost trustworthiness, character and responsibility.
Step 1. Give Your Kids a Clear Message about Responsible Attitudes
Take time to explain your beliefs and expectations about responsibilities. Consider starting family motto about responsibility.
A father in Atlanta told me that conveying this life message to his kids was so important that they spent an afternoon together brainstorming family anthems about responsibility such as: “We keep our word.” “We always do our best.” “We can be counted on.” They wrote them on index cards, and his kids taped them on their bedroom walls.
Develop your own family anthem as a reminder that your family code of conduct is to always be responsible and that you expect your kids to convey that belief in their daily actions and attitude.
Step 2. Expect and Require Responsibility
A big part of changing kids’ irresponsible attitudes is to flat-out require responsibilities. And the easiest place to begin is right at home.
First think about the responsibilities you want to delegate per child. You might even gather the troops and brainstorm together all the things they should be responsible for and additional ways they could help out at home. These might include household chores (watering plants, making beds, dusting); personal responsibilities (brushing teeth, showering); personal possessions (putting toys, bicycles, and video games away); school (do homework to the best of your ability, return library books.)
Then clearly spell out to each family member your expectations and the consequence for incompletes.
Go through each responsibility step by step at least once with your kid so that she clearly knows how to do it. This is the time when you can correct any poor habits.
Step 3. Don’t Excuse Excuses
Irresponsible kids often try to get out of their responsibilities by making excuses (or fibbing, inventing justifications, or lying). So set a new family policy: “We do not excuse excuses.” Then the very next time your kid tries shirking his responsibilities with “an attitude,” enforce the policy and help him find a solution to his problem so there is no excuse.
Suppose your kid makes an excuse for his misplaced library book: “How can I remember where it is? I can never find anything around this house!”
Your response to the attitude is: “That’s an excuse. We don’t make those in this house. We’re going to figure out right now what you can do so it won’t happen again.”
The excuse-busting solution the parent and kid created: the child set aside a box near his bedroom door for his library books then taped a big card to the box with the due date plainly visible. The result: no more excuses or lost library books.
A few more examples of kid-excuses turned into solutions:
“I was too busy to put my toys away.”
A young child draws himself a picture of a box or shelf as a reminder that the rule is: “Not later but now.” Or: “As soon as you stop playing, you put your toys away.”
“I didn’t know what time the game started.”
Your kid writes his time schedule and posts it on the refrigerator or bedroom door. A young child can draw a clock face showing the time.
Step 4. Set a Consequence if the Irresponsibility Continues
So what happens if your kid continues displaying this attitude? It’s time to set a consequence; after all, your child must learn to be accountable for his actions. There should be a consequence, and the most effective ones always fit the crime, cause a bit of misery (so your kid will want to change his attitude), and are consistently enforced.
Above all, remember: no more excusing your child and no more “rescuing.” If your younger child has left her ice cream cone to melt on the counter, enforce the rule: “No more ice cream cone for two days.”
If your kid doesn’t put her dirty clothes in the hamper, she won’t have clean ones and must wait until the next wash cycle.
Anything that your kid broke, tore, or lost (whether the property belongs to your kid or another) he must replace or repair. He also must pay for it by earning the money. If he has none, make a list of house chores with an appropriate price value (vacuuming: $2.00; raking: $3.50) he can do to pay off the damaged property.
Step 5. Reinforce Responsible Actions
Change is never easy—especially when kids have been using irresponsible attitudes for a while. So don’t expect instant success in this makeover. Do also remember to acknowledge your kid’s effort for trying every step of the way and celebrate improvements.
Whatever you do: don’t do any task your child can do for herself! She’ll never learn to be responsible if she knows you’ll finish the job for her.
Recognize your role is “helper,” not “doer.” Once you get your role straight, your battles are half-over. After all, the work responsibility rests in your kid’s hands, not yours. So keep your role straight in your mind as well as in your kids’ minds. And do remember to reinforce your child for any responsible efforts.