When Kids Stay Irresponsible

Brian and Jana were very concerned about how much work it was to get their 8-year-old son, Brady, to do much of anything – look up from his book when they talked, get ready for school in the morning, get dressed for baseball, take a shower… Just to get the kid to tie his shoes was an aggravating power struggle.

Brian observed, “I need to out-think him to get him to do something. And it has to be creative, or it doesn’t work.”

To help Brian understand and feel the impact of the “outfoxing game” on his son, I asked Brian how it would feel if his boss needed to outmaneuver him or threaten to dock his pay to “get him to perform” at work. Brian answered, “Pretty unmotivating.”

Then I asked, “And which of Brady’s behavior gets the most of your energy and attention?” “His irresponsible behaviors,” they replied.

Brian and Jana were showing signs of understanding.

Then I asked, “Who has really been responsible for Brady’s responsibilities?” Thoughtfully Brian observed, “I guess we have been.”

“So what message gets communicated to Brady when you are the ones actually responsible for getting him ready and out the door?” Jana answered, “It tells him that ‘you are irresponsible.’”

Bingo.

Parents’ well-intended efforts often backfire like this.

With new resolve, Brian and Jana decided to meet with their boys, apologize for how they had been giving unhelpful messages about who is actually responsible for the boys’ actions, and develop some ideas together about how to move forward.

I returned to the analogy of, “How would it feel if your boss said, ‘We’re really facing some tough challenges with this issue. Let’s brainstorm about it together’?” Brian smiled. “Yeah, pretty good.”

Apply It Now:

Brian and Jana left that day resolved to come alongside Brady in a much more effective way, to communicate the message to their children, “YOU are responsible for your actions and your life.” What messages do you want to communicate?

  1. Think of a common power struggle in your house. How do you usually respond?
  2. What messages do you think your previous responses have been communicating to your child(ren)?
  3. What is/are the main message(s) you WANT to communicate to your child(ren)?
  4. Take a few minutes to brainstorm some ideas for how you could respond in a way that communicates the messages you want to communicate. Then pray that God would help you to respond that way next time.

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