Everything In Its Place

Everything In Its Place

"My 11-year old just isn't responsible. He leaves his socks on the floor and doesn't put away my tools after borrowing them. How do I find responsibility in that?"

When this came up in a recent class, Eva took the challenge. "Well, let's look. Does he ever do anything responsible like feeding the cat?"

Right on cue, Mom said, "Actually he does. He feeds the cat every day without needing to be told."

While a discovery like this is often enough for parents to see responsibility in their child, in some cases it's not. In fact, sometimes finding out that your child is responsible in one area makes the fact that he's not acting responsibly in other areas even worse. Here's why:

Consider your response to the automatic unconscious question, "If this child is responsible, then why doesn't he pick up his socks and put my tools back?" If you're like most of us, your automatic unconscious answer will not be good. This is where we take things personally like, "He's just doing this to make me mad," or negate the previous proof and fall back into the belief that, "He's just not responsible."

When we come from the position, "You need to prove to me that you are responsible for me to believe it," our kids get the message that they can never be responsible enough for it to count.

Instead, by bringing this same question into your awareness from the perspective that the child is already responsible (which is what Eva and I do when we coach), it sounds like this:

"Why would a responsible child not pick up his socks or forget to put borrowed tools back?" 

Can you feel the difference? Now you are not questioning the premise that the child is responsible, you are looking for other causes of the behavior. You will find them by stepping into the child's perspective.

This is a Montessori trained child. In Montessori, each activity throughout the day concludes with putting things away. The unconscious question/answer route would send you off track: "If he's responsible at school everyday, why can't he be responsible at home? He's had plenty of practice. It should be easy by now...," whereas, saying what you see (SWYS) to the child with the intention of understanding, wakes you up and shifts your perspective:

SWYS: "You just spent the entire day putting things away, and now you're home, and these socks need to be put away, too!"

Even without speaking to her son, this mom got it. "Oh my gosh! Putting things away at school has never been easy for my son. No wonder when he comes home he can't put away even one more thing! And all this time, I thought he just wasn't responsible. Plus the times he doesn't return my tools are times when he's out in the woods playing with his friends feeling relaxed and distracted. It would be really hard to remember to bring in the tools."

Strength-building can dos were suddenly much easier to design like:

SWYS: "Right after school you are probably so done putting things away that even socks seem like too much."

CAN DO: "Must be something you can do to get re-energized, so it's no big deal. What kind of after-school schedule would make that possible?"


SWYS: "When you are out playing with friends, it seems like putting away tools is the last thing on your mind."

CAN DO: "Must be something you can do to remind yourself to bring them in. Here, you can practice with this old rusted hammer. When you figure out a system that works reliably for you, you can talk to me about the other things you want to borrow."

At Language of Listening, we see it this way: Children come to us with responsibility and every other strength built in. We seek proof to help them see it in themselves, not to convince ourselves it is there.

To join Eva and me in this perspective just start listening for your unconscious questions, bring them into your awareness, then say what you see instead.

Which unconscious questions keep coming up for you? How could SWYS change what you see?



  1. Love this turn-aroud! 🙂 Good timing too.
    I have a litle 9-yr old someone whose socks look like just that picture.

  2. Eileen |

    Lovely! Who doesn’t need this advice?

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