How to Teach Responsibility Using Consequences Instead of Words

Dear Kid Whisperer,

I have a generally well-behaved 12 year old son, but I feel like I have to say everything fifteen times to get him to do anything. I don’t know if this is because he is purposely disobeying me or just absent-minded, but I am exhausted by the amount of times I have to repeat myself. – Mary, Dayton Ohio

Mary,

The answer is in your question. Your kid has made you feel exhausted. This is a problem. You are going to ask him to solve the problem that he caused. You will simultaneously be taking great care of yourself and making sure that your kid starts to learn some lessons about the importance of responsibility. Warning: if you are not OK with your kid suffering the consequences of his actions and inactions, please save yourself some time and stop reading. This isn’t for you.

If you are still with me, I can tell you what I won’t tell you to do. I’m not going to tell you to lecture your kid about the importance of taking his responsibilities seriously. Do you remember when your parents lectured you about responsibility? Did you listen or care? Neither did I.

Instead of talking, I’m going to show you how I would take action:

Kid Whisperer: Oh, man. I asked you to set the table and you didn’t set the table.

Kid: Oh, my word. It must have slipped my mind. I am only 12 after all, and not very attentive.

Kid Whisperer (after emitting a moan and while rubbing my tired eyes): Oh, man. Ugh. Saying things more than once makes me tired. I’m going to ask you to make me less tired later.

Kid Whisperer walks away.

Later, when all is calm and well in the world, I have the following conversation.

Kid Whisperer: Bud, I am just exhausted from having to say things more than once to you. I was going to clean our bathrooms, but now I’m too tired, so I’m going to ask you to clean them. The cleaning supplies are in the downstairs closet. Ask me if you have questions. I will be reading my magazine. Thanks.

As soon as your kid successfully makes you less tired, thank him, give him a hug and tell him how rested you feel because of him.

If your kid refuses to clean, calmly tell him not to worry about it and that you will take care of it for him. Just as your kid thinks that he got away with being irresponsible and rude, the neighbor kid (whom you called) will come over and clean your bathrooms. You will pay her $30 of your kid’s money from his piggy bank. Your kid is likely to clean bathrooms when asked next time.