The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

By: Jolene Roehlkepartain
What kind of habits does your child have? Are they mostly good? Mostly bad? Or downright ugly? Help is here!

Developing good habits (and breaking bad ones) is about teaching kids how to take responsibility for their behavior. Ask any parent how responsible their child is, and most will groan and roll their eyes. Most kids avoid responsibility because there are other, more interesting things to do.

Dr. Don Dinkmeyer and Dr. Gary McKay wrote a helpful book titled Raising a Responsible Child. In the book, they outline ways to help kids become more responsible in order to improve their habits.

One of my favorite solutions is to create a contract. Here’s how you do it:

1. Call a family meeting.

2. Agree to a contract that states the following: If kids do these specific behaviors (such as cleaning their room once a week and helping the parents clean the house on Saturday morning), then the family gets to do something fun together, such as go the movies or to a water park.

3. As a family, brainstorm some fun activities to include on the list. (This is the easy part!)

4. Follow through; follow through; follow through.

To prevent slacking on responsibilities, be sure to hold your kids accountable for their behavior. One way to do this is to address the problem right before fun time. You can say something like, “ I’m upset because I really want to go to the movies with you, but there’s a problem. You haven’t kept your part of the contract.” Use specific examples like, “Your room is a mess, and you didn’t help us clean the house last Saturday.”

Chances are, your kids will panic, run to their rooms, and clean like crazy.

Stick to your guns. (This is the hard part!)

Delaying your child’s gratification now, will teach them a lesson in responsibility. Learn what the research says about delayed gratification.

You can say something like, “We will look forward to going to the movies with you next weekend—if you continue to clean your room and help us with our family chores.”

This way, there’s no need to yell or nag to get the message across. Kids will quickly learn what was expected of them. After that, they will develop good habits (in the cleaning department, at least).

As parents, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the long list of bad habits we’re trying to get our kids to break and the long list of good habits we’re trying to convince our kids to establish. These lists become especially daunting during the toddler and teenage years, when kids are growing so rapidly.

Teaching responsibility is something you’ll teach your child today, tomorrow, and for years to come. It takes time.

If your parents are still alive, ask them when they thought you had become responsible. Ask them how they taught you good habits. You may discover some words of wisdom along with another empathetic adult who understands what you’re going through.

Tell Us:——>What are your child’s good, bad, or ugly habits?

1. Dr. Don Dinkmeyer and Dr. Gary D. McKay, Raising a Responsible Child: How to Prepare Your Child for Today’s Complex World (New York: Fireside, 1996).

2. Thomas Gordon, Parent Effectiveness Training: The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2000).

3. Responsibility, ParentFurther.

4. Image via Johan Larsson on Flick’r.


This is a great article. Most important is your comment to “follow through”. How many parents don’t follow through? You also have to use age appropriate rewards and challenges. I have 4 children ranging from 4 years old to 12 years old. What used to work was rewarding positive behavior with a marble and X amount of marbles won you a trip to the dollar store or a Happy Meal. The older kids don’t go for that now. Don’t get me wrong, they are still great kids so I do reward their helping hands, positive attitudes and team initiative. Now rewards look more like new crocs shoes, video games, trip to the mall, etc. I don’t think my kids are spoiled but just like anyone else, there has to be incentive. We still do family rewards but individual rewards tend to work better as the children are getting older.

I do not think imposing do’s and don’ts to your children would do any good in making them realize what is good or what is bad. The best thing to do would be to gradually try to change them. There is plenty of time later on for teaching them.

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