Saturday, March 24, 2018

Owning Up

Both the girls don't like being caught in the wrong. They panic. They cover up. They deny fault. They cry. They shut down and refuse to talk. They feign memory loss.

We've had issues with both girls getting so upset and spun up in their guilty actions that they'll make things much, much worse by refusing to accept responsibility, steadfastly denying an observed accident into a huge web of lies (that inevitably are easily proven wrong). They'll wail and carry on, and somehow we have a much bigger problem.

I get it. It's age appropriate, and even beyond that, it's human nature to avoid being caught out. Guilt and shame and worry about what you've done and what happens next. I've had a few situations in life where I've had to admit to some pretty big stuff, and the thought of it still makes my whole body cringe.

However, I've also learned, in my many years of being caught in less than perfect behavior, that those instincts are SO WRONG and make everything SO much worse.

So, now, as a parent, it's my job to try and teach the girls, so they don't have to learn the lessons in their adult life, when the stakes are much much higher than finding out who spilled their water or left the back door open.

1. Don't hide your own mistakes.
If you knock something off the counter, acknowledge it. If you ding another car, let the owner know. If you lose something you borrowed, replace it. And let your kids know what you're doing. Let them know you're frustrated that there's a mess to clean up, or that you feel really guilty and you're worried about what might happen next, but that mistakes happen.

2. Let them know that accidents are accidents.
My sister and I were chatting about this the other day.  She knocked a bottle of salad dressing out of the fridge while searching around. They're getting their house ready to sell, so they are getting in the habit of keeping things immaculate, and salad dressing is a pain to clean up, especially if it gets under appliances. As she was cleaning it up, she was thinking that if her daughter had been the one to spill something, she would have flipped out on her, about the mess, about how hard it is to keep things clean, and probably would have sent her to her room for being careless. But really, accidents are accidents. They can make you mad, or they can make you upset, but they aren't punish worthy.

3. If you do lose your temper, own up.
I do lose my temper when those kinds of accidents happen. That's what happens when you get frustrated, and messes are a huge trigger for me. But all this does is make the girls afraid of what will happen if they have a mess making accident, or spill, or lapse in judgement. And when the fear instinct kicks in, they make more poor decisions. So as hard as I try NOT to lose my temper, when I inevitably DO, I make sure that I own up. I apologize and admit that I was wrong to lose my temper. I explain that I was frustrated at the mess, but that we know that accidents happen.

4. Keep your word.
When I'm looking for the truth, for someone to own up to something, I typically let them know that there will be NO CONSEQUENCE. And I make sure that I actually stick to that. When I ask "what happened", I'm asking because I need the information to know how to help fix it. This took some time. The fight or flight instinct is strong, but I find that when I remind the girls that if I said "no consequence" I really mean it, and I can remind them of times when I've stuck to it.

Basically, the way to teach kids that owning up is hard, but the right thing, is to teach them that you still struggle with it. It's still scary to make a mistake that can have ramifications, but ultimately, that sometimes, doing what's hard is the best choice. 

Big lesson for the girls - own up to your issues

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