It’s not my fault.
XX made me do this.
I’ve done my best. It’s them who screwed things up.
How often do you hear these kinds of defense from your child? Lately, my son’s teachers marked his handbook two times in a row in the same week due to misbehaviour. The first one was because he put pencil crumbs into his teacher’s glass of water, and the second was because he was not paying attention in class. In both incidents, I heard the "you" blame from him rather than the "me" culpability. To be specific, he said that it’s Richard who asked him to put the pencil crumbs into the teacher’s water, and it’s Richard who keeps distracting him in class. I realized that it was time to teach my son the lesson of accountability & responsibility.
Taking responsibility and being accountable are among the most valuable lessons we human beings have to learn in life. If children don’t learn these while they are still young, they’ll have to carry the "blaming" attitude to their adulthood.
Denying one's errors or blaming other people for it is actually an act that diminishes our self respect as well as the respect of other people. It doesn’t only lessen others' trust, it also means you are giving control back to other people.
In Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), the concept of taking responsibility is actually a layout in the concept of Cause & Effect.
- Result: You fail a test.
- If you put yourself at Effect: You think that the exam is too difficult (e.g., I can do nothing about it) --> No further action is taken.
- If you put yourself at Cause (i.e., I’m the reason that led my failing the test): You think of reasons why you failed (e.g., Maybe I haven’t mastered the subject yet? Was I too careless? Perhaps I did not answer quick enough?) —> You take action to improve and do better next time.
So if someone is at Effect, he may blame others for his life in general. He thinks he is the result of something he can’t control, and he deems himself powerless so he has to depend on others. Emotionally he may feel relieved by shifting the responsibility to other people, but realistically, this victim mode is not doing him any good. Believing that someone else is responsible or making them responsible for your life is very limiting and it gives others a mystical power over you.
On the contrary, being at Cause means you are a part of the situation in which you can do something to create a different result. People who are at Cause see the world as a place of opportunity and move toward achieving what they desire. If things are not unfolding as they like, they take action and explore other possibilities. Above all, they know they have a choice in what they do and how they react to people and events.
A lot of people find the concept of accountability and responsibility a little abstract to teach children. It is not, if you use NLP’s Cause & Effect as a framework.
Take my son as an example: his misbehaviour at school has actually opened up an opportunity for me to teach him the lesson of accountability. When he mentioned to me that "Richard made me do this," I started by showing empathy – how he feels obliged to follow whatever his friend asks him to do. But then, I led to other possibilities and showed him that he has power over the situation like ignoring Richard, suggesting other more constructive acts to do with Richard, and more. He started to understand that he’s not a victim, but he indeed has choices.
The same thing applies to the issue of him not paying attention in class. We discussed this incident and I asked him to suggest ways so he can pay more attention. That’s when he said he can tell his teacher when he’s distracted, or he can even suggest to swap seats with other people.
Using real life examples to open up our children’s minds is one of the best ways to move them from taking the role of a victim to taking back control. There are other areas that parents have to pay special attention to so that their children are wired to take responsibility automatically.
More real life examples:
- Child spills water —> Let them do the clean up themselves.
- Child breaks a glass —> Help them clean up and explain to them the reason you’re helping is because glass can hurt and you’re protecting them while they’re taking responsibility to their act.
- Child misbehaves —> Review what they have done and explore other alternative behaviours together.
· Have you ever seen children of 4 or 5 years old who are still sitting on the pram when they have long mastered walking and even running?
· Have you ever seen parents feeding old kids to make sure they finish their meals?
· Have you ever seen parents waking their children up in the morning so that they won't be late for school?
· Has your child ever broken a toy and you immediately come to the rescue and promise to replace it because he’s crying his lungs out?
All these act of caring parents are actually sending out an unconscious message to their children – a message that the kids are not responsible for their walking, eating, waking up on time or taking care of their toys.
Being accountable is an attitude and a habit we have to build in our kids at a young age. It is what we do in our daily life that helps our children build this virtue for a lifetime. So let our children see clearly the consequence of their actions and let them take care of the result.
Your children are a part of your family and you need to teach them that helping out at home is their responsibility, just as it is mom's and dad's. Also, letting them do housework prepares them for the future when they will have their own apartment or house – do not wait until your son or daughter is already in college before he or she learns how to cook or use a vacuum.
However, do not give your kids money in exchange for doing chores because: one, they will only help out in the house if they will be compensated; two, this is treating your child like hired help; and three, this is unconsciously educating them that service would be the way to make a living when they grow up.
What we need children to understand is their role in the home, and the importance of them, being family members, to be involved in the maintenance of the family home. Other methods like setting yourself as a good model, acknowledging children’s priorities when negotiating your expectations or designing chores in a way that’s fun and light-hearted may take more time & patience than bribe and force, they are a lot more lasting and they will help your children build up strong accountability.
A final reminder: always lead by example. If you are teaching your child accountability but you yourself do not practice personal responsibility (going against the light, talking about people behind their backs, blaming your neighbors, etc.), then you are already sending the wrong signals. Watch yourself and make sure that you lead by example.
Accept responsibility for your actions. Be accountable for your results. Take ownership of your mistakes.
I believe our kids are the key to the future of the world and, as parents, we have a lot of influence while our children are still learning and growing. We set ourselves as our kids’ role models. Consciously and unconsciously, we pass on to them what we know, what we believe, and what we value. This is why partnering with parents in teaching life lessons and soft skills to get kids prepared for the world has become my key purpose in life. I hope that through my experience in teaching communications in university and in NLP training and coaching, I’ll be able to equip you with more tangible methods so that you can be your children’s life teacher, too!
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