Sunday, December 17, 2006

Taking Responsibility Part Two

In treatment programs we talk a lot about kids taking responsibility for their behavior. It seems to be very important to us that the kids acknowledge when they have done something wrong. It is, of course, important to identify when one has done something wrong- how can you fix it if you don’t acknowledge that it ever happened? I have previously written (June 15, 2006) about how shame paralyzes our kids in this area: doing something wrong to them feels like all is lost, all my worst fears about myself are confirmed, no one loves me, everything that has happened is my fault. If admitting you have done something wrong plunges you into total hopelessness, and you have no feelings managements skills, and you have no skills for repairing relationships, your only defense is a complete refusal to own the behavior.

Recently I have been thinking that our indignation that kids "won’t even take responsibility for their own behavior!" might be tempered if we look at ways we find it difficult to take responsibility for our own behavior.

I attend Weight Watchers and that is a wonderful place to learn about adults (including myself) who are trying to make difficult changes- like our kids are. These adults (including myself) by in large have many more assets than our kids do- supporting networks, developed feelings management skills, intellectual abilities. Yet what do we see? People having difficulty taking responsibility for their behavior.

If a person has not been following the eating plan their first impulse is to skip the meeting all together, and to think of a good reason they cannot attend. If they go to the meeting they may want to skip the weigh-in. If they have gained they have many reasons and many extenuating circumstances (in the kids we would call this making excuses, although just as with the kids many of these reasons are completely legitimate). If any one has a bad day of over eating, we often feel that all is lost, that we will never lose weight, and then we keep on over eating more and more. Much in the same way the kids are plunged into hopelessness and despair, these high functioning adults are similarly affected.

We can think of other situations in which we hide our failings, conceal our mistakes, find reasons to excuse our less desirable actions.

I guess it just isn’t that easy for the human being to take responsibility for his or her behavior.


Anonymous said...

Then is there a way to teach kids the skills and tools they need while working around the idea of taking responsibility? Can kids learn to use the feeling management skills, repair skills and get themselves out of the hole without ever taking responsibility or must it follow in sequence?

Patricia Wilcox, LCSW said...

My take on this is... First, if we always respond to behaviors in ways that emphasize their effects on other people, and teach and allow ways to make amends, the child will be better able to allow himself to admit his behavior. He will know that all is not lost and feel less dispair. Second, the safer and calmer a kid is, the more she has feelings management skills, a sense that there are people who care about her, and a sense that she is worthy of life, the more she will dare to explore her mistakes. So, I guess it all develops togther- but anything that promotes a feeling of safety and calm will probably have to be the first part.

Joe Ryan said...

I've run into situations where staff members are very focused on children 'accepting responsibility' for their actions. One of the things that I have stressed in training and supervision is to look at the idea responsibility different. If responsibility is viewed less as,

'I did something wrong/bad. I'll accept whatever consequences you give me so I don't do it again.'

and more like,

'Because I'm able to sit here and talk about it, I didn't make the worst possible choice. Looking back I probably could have done something different in that situation if I had some time to think about it'

This approach(and I never really thought about why it worked before RC training) really cuts down on the guilt and shame and leads to a much more productive conversation with the child.

These kids don't need any help feeling bad about themselves. They need help realizing that even though they made a poor choice, it's not the end of the world.