All parents and teachers want children to keep their end of agreements. For example, if a child says he will take out the garbage, the parent expects that’s what will happen. If a student says she will do her homework, the teacher expects her to follow through. When the youth doesn’t do what he or she promised to do, adults often try to discipline the child, dishing out punishments or imposing consequences. This approach is ineffective.
Why? Because punishment is based on the idea that a person needs to be hurt in order to learn. This is fallacious thinking. When punishment is imposed, the person being punished feels like a victim. Victims take no responsibility for their behavior. In addition, imposed punishments evoke negative feelings on the part of the punished towards the punisher.
The way to get a youngster to take ownership is to work with him/her by DEVELOPING A PROCEDURE. After the agreement (plan) is made, set up a procedure to implement the plan. Start by asking, “What will you do to carry out your plan?” When the YOUNGSTER explains in detail, a mindset is being established—not only for a commitment to do it but also a visioning process of HOW to do it. Remember that the youngster may have good intentions to implement the plan and may even want to do it but needs specifics to assist in the plan’s implementation—hence the need to establish procedures.
If the child fails to do the procedure, instead of resorting to punishments or sending a negative message indicating that you are disappointed, send a positive message. KEEP THESE TWO QUESTIONS HANDY: “What would an extraordinary person do? If you were that person what would you do?”
If, based on what the child failed to do, discipline really is in order, ELICIT a consequence from the youngster by asking, “What should we do about this?” If the response is not satisfactory to you, then ask, “What else?” “What else?” until what the youngster says is acceptable. Using this approach, the child is taking responsibility for the consequence. This ownership negates victimhood thinking. NOTE: If the consequence elicited is too severe, modify it before agreeing to it.
The key is to ask effective questions—one where the person is prompted to reflect. Such questions evoke acknowledgement and ownership—two critical components of taking responsibility.