An Excuse Free-Zone
By Barbara McRae, MCC
Excuses are not only annoying, but more importantly, they prevent achievement! To quote Benjamin Franklin: “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good at anything else!”
Do your kids feel that what they do, or fail to do, isn’t nearly as important than having an excuse? Do you have a high tolerance for excuses? If your kids believe all is well as long as they give you an excuse, then you’ve got to ask yourself: How am I contributing to this problem?
One way that you could be opening yourself up to excuses is when you’re not clear whether what you’re hearing is a valid explanation or an excuse.
Simply put, an explanation is giving an account of what happened and taking full responsibility for one’s actions. The emphasis is on “making it right.”
“I know you asked me to clean up the mess I made in the kitchen, but I got distracted. I’ll do it right now!”
An excuse is providing reasons to support the claim: “It’s not my fault” and exempting one’s self from taking responsibility.
“I told my friends not to come over, but they did anyway so I couldn’t clean up. It’s not my fault they brought new video games for us to play!”
The “They made me do it” excuse seems to be especially prevalent among our youth. When you coach your kids to be accountable they’ll respond like this: “I know I gave into peer pressure and I shouldn’t have! Next time, I’ll …”
Often kids blame others (siblings or even you!) to avoid taking responsibility for their actions. And if you asked your son to apologize to your daughter, he might say: “I’m sorry, BUT she’s so annoying!” Then, what he is really saying is that it’s her fault and he is not responsible for what he says, acting as if he’s the victim.
This kind of error in thinking will cause him to continue shirking his responsibility and strengthen his victim-mentality. Without problem-solving skills, he will interpret any question about his behavior as an attack, no matter how benign it is. By the time he reaches his late teens he’ll likely blame everyone else in the world for his disappointments.
Your role as a parent is to catch your child’s thinking errors before you step into his traps, to stop the blaming and the excuses. Every excuse you tolerate matters because the message you are sending is “It’s OK to give me an excuse instead of being accountable.”
Excuses will weigh you down and keep you stuck. Your awareness of excuses (your own and others) can help you to clean up this toleration and free up your energy. And it helps your kids undo this unfortunate habit.
Kids make excuses to deflect your attempt to have them own up to a behavior and problem-solve with them. When you let them derail you, you are preventing them from
(1) making better choices the next time, and
(2) becoming empowered by overcoming their feelings of helplessness.
Are you ready to declare an “Excuse-Free Zone”?
To help your kids, you’ll first need to spot and be vigilant about eliminating your thinking errors and excuses. Start by better understanding your Inner Interpreter (a term coined by Dr. Martin Seligman). Your interpreter gives meaning to events based on TIME, PLACE, and PERSON. Notice whether you minimize or maximize (exaggerate).
Permanent excuse: “Things will never work out.”
Temporary explanation: “THIS situation didn’t work out.”
Pervasive excuse: “I can’t putt to save my life.”
Specific explanation: “I didn’t land THAT shot.”
Personal excuse: “I’m not good at this.”
Impersonal explanation: “THIS situation required me to double my usual preparation time.”
In each case, the temporary, specific, and impersonal explanations are much more realistic and easier to manage than the inflated excuses!
Keep in mind that your internal interpreter is ever awake and alert. It can easily adapt to the changes you are making based on your new focus: to cultivate an excuse-free zone, providing you and your family with more freedom, optimism, and achievement.
Barbara McRae, MCC
Teen Parenting Expert, Campus Calm
© Barbara McRae