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Attitude Makeover: Irresponsible

Antidote: Responsibility, Trustworthiness, Reliability
"How was I supposed to know it was due today?"
Dear Dr. Borba,
I'm ashamed to admit this, but our eleven year old is so irresponsible. She never takes care of her things and needs constant reminders to do her homework. Most of the time, my husband or I end up finishing it – it's almost easier then listening to her excuses. We want her to get good grades, but now I think we're going about it all wrong. Help!

– Courtney L., a mom of three from Tucson, Arizona

Any of these sound familiar? "I forgot." "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, spoiled kids and part of the Big Brat Factor. And are they ever good at finding excuses for their carelessness! Denying, excusing, blaming, rationalizing, and accusing are just a few strategies these kids use to justify their conduct.

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 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 affect every area in their present and future lives: academic, moral, professional, 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!

Emergency Attitude
Stop immediately doing anything that compensates for your child's irresponsibility. Do not write one more cover-up note to your child's teacher. Do not do put out the garbage when your kid conveniently disappears. Do not take your kid's overdue library book and pay the fine. Do not go back and get your kid's forgotten soccer shoes for the umpteenth time. Instead, make your kid take the consequences of his irresponsible attitude. Remember that your role is guider, not doer, and that single tweak will do much to change your child's bad attitude.

Bad Attitude Alert
Before reforming your kid's irresponsible ways, you need to analyze the beginnings of her bad attitude.

What exactly does your kid do or say that is irresponsible? For instance, does he not take care of his things? Not take care of other people's possessions? Not finish assignments? Not start assignments? Misplace or lose items? Fail to wake up without constant reminders? Need coaxing, yelling, or bribing to finish chores or expect someone to do them for him? On a scale of one to ten, if you tell your child to do something, how often can he be counted on to follow through and keep his word? The more specific you are in your diagnosis, the more effective you will be in creating a makeover plan.

Why. Why does your kid have this attitude? What does he gain from it? For instance, does he get out of doing jobs or assignments? Does someone pick up the pieces for him? Does it save him from the possibility of failure or embarrassment? Is it just plain easier? Have you been irresponsible toward him? Has he ever been taught to be responsible? Does everyone in your family pull their own weight? What has your kid learned from being irresponsible?

What. What issues or things is he more prone to be irresponsible over? For instance, is it about homework? Library books? Chores? Personal possessions? Other people's property? Clothes? Sports equipment? Curfews? Appointments?

Who. Does he display the same attitude to everyone? Are there some individuals he is more likely to flaunt this attitude on – for instance, a teacher, coach, grandparents? Why do you think he flaunts it toward some people and not others?

When. Is there a particular time he is more prone to use this attitude: Right before school? Dinner? Chores? Homework time? Soccer game? If so, what might be the reason?

Where. Are there certain places he is more likely to be irresponsible (at school or day care, home, scouts, play group, Uncle Al's)? Why?

How. What is the typical way your kid displays his attitude when he is irresponsible? For instance, does he blame someone else? Make up an excuse? Lie? Con someone into doing it for him? Expect someone to take care of the problem he caused? Feign ignorance? Defy your requests? Appear not to care? Accuse you of being irresponsible (you didn't remind him, wake him up, put the item back)?

Now take a look at your answers. Are you seeing any predictable patterns? What is your best diagnosis of why your kid has learned this attitude? Confer with other adults who know your kid well to see if they agree. Keep one thing in mind: he uses the attitude because it works. What can you do to teach him it does not work? Now let's look at how you respond to your kid's attitude.


From Don't Give Me That Attitude by Michele Borba, Ed.D. Copyright © 2004 by Michele Borba. All rights reserved. Used by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Buy the book at www.amazon.com.

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