Yesterday I wrote about taking responsibility and how fewer and fewer children are doing it. I see it at school in my students and I see it at home when my girls first come. It's not enjoyable either place.
How do I teach responsibility? How do I get them over the "It's not my fault because..." excuses? The "Write me a paper" response does the trick.
Whenever one of my kids gives an excuse or tries to shirk their responsibilities, I tell them to write me a paper. The paper does a couple of things. First, it forces them to think about what happened and/or what they did, and write it out. Secondly, it gives me something to refer back to in the conversation that follows. I don't know about you, but sometimes in the midst of tangled stories I can get lost. Having their version on paper helps me keep them accountable to what they said.
In the beginning of the school year and when my girls first arrive these papers are rather comical. Nothing is ever their fault. Paper wads fling themselves out of hands, pencils break themselves in half, words are completely misheard and others run right into fists that were just trying to be helpful. This bent toward blaming others and inanimate objects takes a little while to shake.
So here's how it works. Let's say Ashley breaks all her pencils in half because she does not want to complete her math. I arrive on the scene and see the broken pencils. Ashley's first words are, "All my pencils broke." I say, "Write me a paper about that," and hand her a piece of notebook paper.
Notice, I didn't ask how or why her pencils are broken, because at that point she would launch into the many reasons why it's not her fault. I want her to think about her actions and put them on paper, even if she's going to use the same excuses. Having them on paper will be a help later on.
Ashley writes the paper. I read it. It's a fiction story that takes place in Pencilvania where pencils have minds of their own and apparently can snap in half whenever they want. Just kidding, but it is fiction and the dilemma Ash finds herself in is completely the fault of the pencils.
The paper has taken her about ten minutes. That ten minutes has been helpful in taking the edge off her defensiveness and my frustration. She reads the paper to me. We discuss how pencils are unable to break themselves, even laying a pencil on the desk and waiting for it to snap if need be.
She finally comes around and admits she was mad and broke the pencils. I hand her another piece of paper and ask her to write me a paper about that. This paper explains what really happened. This paper has her taking responsibility for the broken pencils. I help her tape the broken pencils back together (because around here we use broken stuff) and she moves forward with her math.
Time consuming? Yes, but worth every minute. Eventually Ashley moves from writing two papers each time (one fiction and the other truth) to only one (the truth) and then one day she turns around and realizes she hasn't written any papers in a very long time.
She has learned the lesson I've been trying to teach. She now takes responsibility the first time. And as the Hokey Pokey says in the song, "that's what it's all about." Well, at least in the responsibility world.