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Attitude Makeover: Irresponsible

The "Don't Give Me That Attitude" Makeover
To squelch your child's irresponsible attitude, take the following steps.

Step 1. Give Your Kids A Clear Message About Responsible Attitudes
Take time to explain your beliefs and expectations about responsibilities. Consider developing a 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 is always to be responsible and that you expect your kids to convey that belief in their daily actions and attitude.

To assess your kids' understanding of those beliefs, pose questions such as these:

"What are things a responsible person would say and do?"

"What responsibilities do you have in this house? Dad? Mom? The other kids?"

"What happens if you don't follow through on those responsibilities at home or school?"

"How would that affect others?"

"What if I didn't go to work every day? What if I didn't pay the bills on time or take you to the doctor to get your shots on time?"

"What if we didn't pay our taxes? What would happen then?"

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 to each 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, video games away), and 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. (See Step 5.) 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.

Most kids, especially younger ones, need reminders. Charts using words or pictures that list job assignments, responsibilities, and completion dates are helpful. Even nonreaders can "read" their responsibilities on a chart with pictures of what they are expected to do. Kids can then off mark their responsibilities as they are completed.

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.

Step 3. Teach How To Make Responsible Decisions
A large part of being responsible is making good decisions. Kids toting irresponsible attitudes frequently don't own up to their poor choices, blame someone else for the outcome, or expect to be rescued. If those traits describe your kid, teaching decision-making skills should be a big part of his attitude makeover. Here are a few techniques:

  • Ask if-then questions. To help narrow choices and think about possible outcomes, teach your kid to ask himself after each selection, "If I do that now, will I still feel okay about it tomorrow?" "What about next week?" Teach one decision-making rule: "Eliminate any choice that you may regret later."
  • Be a fortune-teller. Tell a younger kid to pretend to be a fortune-teller: "How will I feel tomorrow if I chose that today?"
  • Weigh pros and cons. To help an older child weigh the pros and cons of each possibility, have him ask himself: "What are all the good and bad things that might happen if I chose that?"

Next: Keep at it >>

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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