Excuses, Excuses

Excuses are the nails used to build a house of failure.
—Don Wilder, American Speaker

You want your child to do something. Your child doesn’t do it, and when you ask why, she’s full of excuses and reasons why she can’t. All the while you’re thinking that if she just did it instead of making up excuses, it would be done by now. Here’s how to move kids to action.

Tips for . . .

  • all parents
    • Expect these tensions to be with you through the childhood and teenage years. Kids would rather do things they like than take responsibility. Don’t let them off the hook, though. Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean they should give up.
    • Figure out consequences for when your child refuses to take responsibility. For example, if your child won’t do homework, restrict his access to video games, the computer, or TV until he’s finished his homework.
    • Create routines in which responsibility comes first and fun times come after. That way if your child dilly-dallies through her responsibilities, her fun time will be cut short.
    • Be clear that responsibilities must be done well, not rushed through. Some kids quickly figure out that if they race through their responsibilities (and skip a bunch of the steps) then they have more time to do what they want.
    • Keep a sense of humor. If your child constantly comes up with more and more outrageous excuses, write them down. (Save them to tell your kids when they become adults.)
    • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • Young children come up with fantastical excuses when they don’t want to stop playing. Go along with their fantasies and try to work them into the responsibility. For example, if your child is talking about how a monster keeps him from picking up his room, say that the monster’s mom told you that the monster also has to help.
    • Give young children notice before a transition. For example, if your child is watching a video, say, “After the video finishes, we’ll pick up your toys.” That way your child can finish what he is doing and also knows what will come next.
    • Young children are less likely to balk at doing helpful activities or responsibility if you build them into your daily routine, as many child-care centers and preschools do.
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • It’s challenging for many kids to start a school routine, so monitor their schedule. Some kids who are new to school will even take a nap after school because they’re so tired. As long as kids have a good balance of fun and school, they’ll be more likely to take responsibility. However, if they don’t get enough downtime, they’ll make lots of excuses.
    • Make a game about excuses. See who can make up the most outrageous excuse, the most believable excuse, the silliest excuse, the shortest excuse, and the longest excuse. Have fun. Laugh together.
    • Teach kids the difference between real excuses and lazy excuses. Real excuses mean that something has come up that makes it difficult to follow through with a responsibility, such as getting sick. A real excuse means that you will still need to take responsibility, but you will get more time to complete it.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • Some kids at this age believe they have time only for friends and will make excuses for everything else. If this is happening in your family, sit down with your child and explain how family is just as important as friends. Set guidelines, such as how many meals you want to eat as a family and other activities you’d like your child to do, such as household chores. Be clear that friends are also important, but time also needs to be spent at home.
    • Break down responsibilities into smaller pieces so that your child has a harder time making excuses. For example, if you wish your child would clean his room, say that you want him to clean under his bed this time, and next time he can tackle another part of his room. For more ideas, read Parenting Preteens with a Purpose.
    • If your child never gets around to the task you’d like, take away a privilege, such as access to the cell phone or computer, until the task gets done. This often makes excuses disappear in a flash.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • Older teenagers sometimes will remind you of their accomplishments, such as good grades or doing well on a sports team as an excuse. Congratulate them on how well they’re doing, but remind them that life is bigger than that and that they also have other responsibilities.
    • Older teenagers often use their busy schedule as an excuse. Be sympathetic, but also say that everyone is busy. Make sure everyone in your family is doing a fair share and that no one is covering for another. For more ideas on dealing with busy teenagers, read Parenting at the Speed of Teens.
  • Older teenagers can still get caught in the “now” track and have a hard time thinking ahead. That’s why it’s easy for them to choose pizza with friends over studying for an upcoming test. Explain that everyone needs a balance of both fun and responsibility.

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