Good mental health for your kids – part 1 – self responsibility

A few days ago, a Facebook friend of mine shared the following cartoon. It came from ‘I Love to Laugh’s’ Facebook page (at, and they share things from others, so I have no idea where it originated, but it certainly struck a chord with me. My friend’s comment, above the picture was:

So true. Where have we gone wrong???

My comment was:
We’ve taught our children to blame everybody else and not take self responsibility.

She agreed with me.

After typing it, I thought back over a few things, and then I got angry.

We are now living in a society where it’s everybody else’s fault. You get hurt at work, sue the company (read: insurer). You break into someone’s house, trip and knock yourself out on the coffee table, sue the homeowner. You get charged with assault, blame your terrible upbringing. My God – we nearly ALL had a terrible upbringing by today’s standards!!

I can remember when one of my girls was little, there was a boy in her class who was earmarked from the word go as being a handful. Yet there was nothing actually wrong with him – he was just quite intelligent in a non government-school fit-the-box manner.

At the age of five (his age, not mine!), he took my hand one day (I used to help in the classroom one morning per week) and he took me to the old manual typewriter at the back of the room, and then proceeded to show me how it worked. Not just ‘hit the button and it makes a mark on the paper’ but ‘this cog turns that cog and that lever moves that’ – he understood the mechanics of it at the age of five. So he wasn’t silly, just probably more intelligent than anyone realised!

He and his brother lived with their mum and the boys saw their dad occasionally, but she didn’t like that he would take them walking through storm water drains etc. Okay, I accept that it’s probably not a good thing teach young boys, but at least he didthings with his boys, rather than let them play in the backyard while he sat inside watching tele and drinking beer.

Anyway, we were at the classroom one day, for a parent morning, and this mum said to me that she’d had to have a chat with the teacher because her kid didn’t respond to being slapped (this was many years ago!), he needed the ‘persuasive approach’. I was horrified. And like a coward, I kept my mouth zipped.

The thing is, a boy (or indeed, a girl) that has to be ‘persuaded’ to behave isn’t going to get far in society.

No copper is going to use the ‘persuasive approach’ when he pulls a 17 year old over for doing 100 kph in a 60 zone! It’s going to be ‘You’re nicked, Sonny!’

No employer is going to use the ‘persuasive approach’ when the new apprentice wields a power tool in a dangerous manner. It’s going to be ‘Watch out! Where the hell did you learn to saw/drill/whatever?!’

I’ve been a parent for 22 years. I’ve made mistakes (haven’t we all?), but on the whole I’m pretty happy with the job I’ve done. And I do believe that our generation and those before us were probably smacked (or worse still, caned or given the strap) a little too often – it’s nice to see psychology being brought into and encouraged in parenting.

But sometimes, just sometimes, kids need to know that if they do this, the consequence is that, and they then need to be left to live with that consequence.

My mother always took responsibility for my homework. ‘Do you have homework today? How about you do it before dinner, then it’s done? When’s that assignment due? Haven’t you started it yet?’ It was always a bone of contention and stress in our household. She took control of my homework, so it wasn’t my responsibility, it was hers, but I had to do it.

When I had my own children, I stopped taking responsibility for their homework pretty early on. They soon learnt that if they didn’t do it, the teacher would tell them off – and they didn’t like that! They were warned by me, so they knew what was coming – but I made it their responsibility for them to do their work. Sure, I’d help them, and I’d remind them, but without it being my problem or responsibility.

And as they grew up, it became an interest factor and a source of discussion material. ‘What assignments do you have? What are they on? Do you need any help?’

The same went for their toys and possessions. I’d say ‘Don’t leave that on the floor, someone will tread on it and break it.’ Sure enough, said toy would eventually get trodden on and broken. Tears would flow. The toy would NOT be replaced. They soon learnt. My toy, my responsibility to keep it safe.

I think the litigious mindset of western societies these days truly reflects our shift in taking responsibility for our actions – something bad has happened, so I must blame someone. And hell no, I’m not blaming me – I don’t do anything wrong!

But deep down we know when we have done something wrong, when we’re at least a little bit to blame. No matter what a person says on the outside, only the truly delusional truly believe that they’re not at fault in any way.

So when we bury that knowledge, when we spout blame and point fingers at others, it’s in a desperate attempt to hide the truth of the matter. And when you start doing that, you start living a lie.

‘This copper pulled me over for speeding – he targeted me because I’m on my P-plates.’

‘The bloody boss is a crackpot – all I did was put the saw down without turning it off first. I mean, no one died, did they?’

And when you start living a lie, people start trying to catch you at it – and the hunter becomes the hunted – the haunted – the victim – the one who nothing good ever happens to.

So if you’re a parent, do your child a favour and let them take responsibility for their actions.

If they nick something from the local shop, explain to them that they wouldn’t like it if someone stole something from them, would they? Then explain that they have to take it back and apologise. Ring the shopkeeper, ask them to take it seriously (but not too seriously – don’t want to scare the kid from doing the right thing next time!) and take the kid up, with the nicked item, and hold their hand while they apologise and hand it back. Then tell them how proud you are of them for doing the right thing.

If they forget to take their homework in because they’ve been slack, then don’t run it up to school – let them cop a minus mark for not handing it in on time. Mind you, if they’re normally really good about handing their work in and perhaps have had a lot on their plate, then it doesn’t hurt to once – just once! – support them by running it up if it really has to be in that day – but never make a habit of it.

And so on. And we need to do the same ourselves – if we stuff up, we need to own up. Show our children that we’re human too, that it’s okay to make a mistake, so long as we do our best to ‘own’ it and to make amends wherever possible. 

After all, we’re all human, and if we expect others to remember that, then we have to remember it, too.

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