Dear Kid Whisperer,
I have a 16-year-old who has now lost three house keys. I have tried to figure out all kinds of ways for her to keep tabs on them, and none work. I am considering not giving any more keys and just have her walk out through the garage door and giving her a garage door opener. I feel like the opener is bigger and harder to lose. Other than that, I’m out of ideas. -Crystal, Springfield, Ohio
You trying to come up with solutions for your kid’s irresponsibility is causing the problem, not solving it. Doing this gives the implicit message that your kid losing keys is your problem. It isn’t, and you are tricking your kid into believing that it is. I guarantee you that she will lose the garage door opener if you give her one. Why? Because you have accidentally taught your kid that her mistakes are your responsibility.
When an expectation that we set seems reasonable for a kid and the kid fails to be responsible enough to meet that expectation, we shouldn’t change the expectation– we need to change the kid.
Kids don’t usually listen to words, but our actions are likely to get their attention.
So, here is how I would deal with your kid losing keys.
Kid Whisperer: Yeesh. I think I owe both of us an apology. I have gotten really frustrated with you about losing your key three times. I think that by trying to problem-solve how you can best remember your key, I have tricked you into thinking that your keys are my problem. I promise that I won’t get frustrated or solve your problems any more.
Kid: That would be fantastic.
Kid Whisperer: From now on, I’m just going to ask you to solve any problems that you cause.
Kid: Wait. What?
Kid Whisperer: Since we don’t know where your keys are, we don’t know who has your keys. In order to keep us all safe, we need to change the locks for the house. I called the locksmith, and the price he gave me was $150 for changing the exterior locks. He is coming tomorrow, and I expect you to pay him out of your allowance.
Kid: That’s not fair! Couldn’t you just yell at me and tell me about how you walked up hills and through snow to school everyday and all that other stuff you say? That was all really helpful, and I was just about to learn to be responsible!
Kid Whisperer: He’ll be here at 4:00 tomorrow. Please have your money ready.
If you can somehow be sure that the keys could not reasonably have fallen into the hands of someone who knows where you live, you can simply charge $5 for each key copying and replacement.
If Kid doesn’t have money, you can pay the locksmith or for the key replacement yourself. Then, you can introduce Kid to the concept of minimum wage, and you can have Kid do extra work around the house, outside of their normal chores, until they have paid off their debt. If Kid refuses to do the chores, or drags her feet in any way that annoys you or causes a problem for you, give up. Then, take Kid’s possessions down to the local resale shop, and sell them until you have recouped the cost of either the lock changing or key replacement.
Kids don’t tend to learn responsibility by us telling them why they should be responsible. They do learn to be responsible by suffering the real-world consequences of being irresponsible.