I had to bite my lip a few weeks ago. I witnessed a distressed child, aged about three, who was clearly overwhelmed.
His family were on a bike ride and he looked like he was spent.
He was then accused by his parents of ‘spoiling it for everyone’ and ‘making his mum really angry’.
While there is nothing wrong with being angry with our kids, (IMO) it isn’t fair to hold our kids responsible for our feelings. They’re our feelings, so we have to own them, and what we do with them.
As is usually the case though, being responsible for ourselves, and expecting our kids to do the same, is easier said than done.
With the new school year just around the corner, I am really NOT looking forward to the daily “get dressed, brush your teeth” etc., battles.
I know that many parents are in the same boat; frustrated beyond measure that even though our kids are are perfectly capable to the tasks, they still don’t feel inclined to do them.
Like many of us, I’m a stickler for him ‘taking responsibility’, but when you’re expending more by asking “pick up your clothes/books/toys” etc., and they’re putting more energy into resisting the task than it would take to just do it, it does get to the point where the battle feels pointless.
Despite their willingness (or lack of!) telling a different story, children are neurodevelopmentally designed to become more responsible. They couldn’t grow up if they didn’t.
But today’s blog post is less about task-orientated responsibility; tidying up, doing their homework, self-organisation etc.; and, just as we need to be responsible for ours, is about helping kids learn to take responsibility for their emotions – and thus the behaviours that can result… hitting, swearing, lying, being destructive etc.
What often hijacks any attempt to teach responsibility is the ‘blame game’. Although we don’t intend to make our kids feel bad about themselves, it’s very easy to do.
Blame may be valid, but is doesn’t tend to help in the long run.
Because, while ‘self-responsibility’ is a hard-won skills for so many of our children, most are surprisingly astute at learning when it comes to blame. Blame doesn’t need to be a regular feature in a child’s kids life before you find you have a little (or big) blamer on your hands…
I’ve really strived to ensure mine hasn’t learned blame from me, but “You’ve made me cry/angry/shout” are not unheard words from my son’s lips.
In other words; “I’m making you responsible for my feelings, instead of taking responsibility for them myself”.
We want our kids to learn accountability, not blame, but there’s a very fine line between them. So how do we teach it?
1) Avoid the self-defence trap
When children blame us for something, especially ‘making them feel bad’, it’s easy to resort to self-defense (“Oh no, I didn’t”), counter-blame (“Well, if you hadn’t X, Y, Z”) or apologies.
BTW, apologies are fine as long as you’re not compensating for what is really your child’s responsibility. You can say “I’m sorry you feel that way”, without accepting undue blame.
“It’s ok for you to be angry” or “Thank you for your thoughts” are good alternatives to diffuse combat too. They express your acceptance without you being drawn into a power struggle.
2) Model self-responsibility ourselves…
Avoid at all costs making your kids accountable for your feelings. While they may have behaved in an inappropriate way, how we deal with that it our job, not theirs.
There’s no need for lengthy discourses. Kids do their best learning by observing their grown-ups, so model the behaviours you want to see more of in your kids.
Show them; “I made a mistake there, so I’m going to______”…
Tell them; “I feel______ so I’m going to________”…
Ask them; How do you think I can help fix the problem?”
3) Build reflection skills
Help your child identify what went wrong or what they could’ve done differently… Not in the spirit of criticism or shame, but so that they’re equipped with the knowledge and tools to do better next time.
And, however you strengthen self-responsibility, always keep a check on whether your expectations are realistic.
It’s all too easy for us to forget that our kids aren’t meant to behave like an adult yet, that; just like us; it’s normal for them to have bad moods and low motivation and be grumpy.
Accountability takes mastery, and mastery takes time. I personally think anything less than 4 weeks of ‘get dressed, brush your teeth’ is before our kids are back on form is unrealistic. Stick with it…
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