One of my friends in high school was the undisputed champion of excuses. In fact, her teachers, coaches, and her parents would get so caught up in the stories she told that they would forget about her misbehavior! (Sound familiar?)
Once when her parents were angry at her for breaking curfew, I remember her saying something like, “Well, I meant to be home on time. I was over at Jenna’s like I told you I would be and I was being really responsible, and I told her ‘I have to get home on time.’ We left her house, and then I realized I forgot my jacket, so we had to turn around and go back to get it. We left her house again, and she forgot her phone, so we had to turn around again to pick that up.” (At this point, I was always surprised that her parents were buying it, but her details were so vivid and realistic-sounding that they usually did.)
When she got going, her “creative excuse-making” was unstoppable. “So we started off again, and there was a HUGE accident on the way here — police cars, ambulances, fire trucks, I think even the Jaws of Life — and we had to wait FOREVER because there were so many cars. Then because we had to wait so long, Jenna ran out of gas, so we started to push the car and we noticed that the tire was flat. She tried to call roadside assistance, but there was no service, so we had to walk until we could get a signal. Finally she was able to get them, and when they came they found out that the spare was flat, so we had to wait for her parents to come pick us up from the service station, and then they let Jenna use their car so I could get home. It’s an absolute MIRACLE that I made it here at all!!”
The truth is, most kids make excuses for their behavior. This is normal, and something that a lot of adults do as well. (Ever been pulled over for speeding, or forgotten to pick up something at the grocery store?) Maybe your child always has a reason for why he did (or didn’t do) something. But remember, if your child doesn’t feel as if anything is his fault and blames everyone else, then he doesn’t ever have to take on the responsibility of changing his behavior.
For parents, constant excuses from can be downright infuriating. I frequently take calls from moms and dads who say, “My kid has an excuse for EVERYTHING! Nothing is ever his fault. What can I do to get him to take more responsibility for himself?” Here’s a 3-step process that shows how you can do this — something I advise parents about regularly.
1. Name it. In order to best handle this behavior, it’s going to be most effective if you directly state what it is that your child is doing. James Lehman gives a simple statement for parents to use: “It sounds like you’re blaming _______ for the fact that you ________.” Let me give an example of how this might be used. Say your son goes on video games everyday after school instead of doing homework. You set up a homework structure with him where he can earn video game time after his homework is complete, and he still keeps going on to play video games with his friends instead of doing his homework, saying something like, “Well, I always play with Tommy, and he can’t play later, and if I wait until I’m done with my homework, I’m not going to have anyone to play with.” Instead of lecturing him for the 100th time about the importance of doing well in school, try saying: “It sounds like you’re blaming Tommy for you choosing not to follow the rule around homework.”
2. Restate the rule or the expectation. Again, you’re going to be the most effective if you do not give your child a lecture; rather, simply state what your house rule is around the behavior you are seeing. Using the above example, you might say, “The rule is, you get to play video games after your homework is done.”
3. Problem solve with your child about next time. When everyone is calm, we recommend having a problem-solving conversation with your child about what he or she will do differently to follow the rule next time. Remember, it’s more effective to focus on how your child is going to take responsibility rather than argue about whose fault it is, or isn’t. The parent in this example might say “Blaming others isn’t going to fix this for you. What are you going to do differently tomorrow to make sure you are following the rules around video games and homework?”
Keep in mind, making excuses just means that your child is human, not that he’s a bad kid or that she’s never going to be able to be responsible. Using these tips can help develop that sense of accountability for his or her actions.
Rebecca Wolfenden is a loving Momma to her son and a dedicated 1-on-1 Coach. She earned her degree in Social Work from West Virginia University and has been with Empowering Parents since 2011. Rebecca has experience working with children and families in home settings and schools, and has extensive practice working with people of all ages who have survived significant emotional and physical trauma.