Teaching Kids to Clean Their Own Messes

Kids get into trouble. They will make mistakes. As a parent, you know that this is all a part of growing up. Yet, you don’t want to see your child make the same mistakes again. Punishment doesn’t seem to stick, and yelling

, “because I said so!” doesn’t seem to make a difference. How can you shape these mistakes into teachable moments?

What Is a Teachable Moment?

The term “teachable moment” can help you reframe how you look at your child’s mistakes or misbehaviors. Teachable moments are opportunities for your child to learn something valuable based on real-life experience. You can ally yourself with your kids to guide them through the process of learning from a mistake.

Often, the experiences surrounding teachable moments occur naturally, with a direct cause and effect. Usually, the cause and effect are apparent at the time. For example, touching a hot stove is a teachable moment. You quickly learn exactly why you should not touch a hot stove.

During a teachable moment, you can connect the natural consequences of behavior to the behavior itself. When you teach your kid to “clean up their own messes,” you are going to look for the natural consequences of behaviors.

What Are Natural Consequences?

Natural consequences are what occurs following a behavior. Often, parents set consequences for their child’s behavior. For example, you might send your young child to their room for hitting their sibling. You might ground your teenager for sneaking out of the house without permission.

When setting consequences, you should try to make them as natural as possible to show the connection between the behavior and the consequence. When you can draw the connection between behavior and outcome, your child can correct their actions and learn why they need to make changes.

Thoughtful Consequences

Natural consequences might require some thought on your end as a parent. It is important to step outside of your “knee-jerk” reaction to negative behaviors and think the consequence through. 

Often, in the moment of discovering that teens acted out, you might get into a heated argument, yell, send your child to their room, and assign a punishment somewhat arbitrarily. While this might make parents feel better immediately, do teens really learn from just being sent to their room or grounded without a clear connection between behavior and consequence?

Learning to Correct Mistakes

Kids need to learn how to correct their mistakes or replace their maladaptive behaviors with healthy coping skills. Sometimes, you just need to be sure to back up the punishment with an explanation of why this behavior leads to this consequence — and what your child can do to meet their needs in a healthy way.

For example, if your child does not help around the house in any way, you might resort to not allowing them to go out with friends. While this might seem fair, the delivery is as important as the consequence itself. Otherwise, the message can get lost, and you might run into other issues when your child is not allowed the opportunity to correct their mistakes.

Instead, you could make going out with their friends on a Friday contingent upon clearing the dinner table or getting dirty dishes out of their room. Most people don’t leave things like food scraps lying around before going out. Responsible people realize that they might come home to a bigger mess than what they left behind from rotting food or ants attracted to scraps.

By explaining to them why they need to help out with some of these basic chores around the house, you provide them the chance to make corrections. If they choose not to help out, that’s fine, and you won’t yell or harass them, but they don’t get to leave home. You now put the responsibility and consequence on them.

Responsible Behavior Means More Freedom

Responsible behavior leads to having more freedom. When kids learn to correct their mistakes, they are displaying responsibility for their actions. Kids often won’t see things like this right away. They might feel like parents are being “unfair” or make comparisons with friends, like “Johnny’s mom and dad don’t make him clean up before going out!”

Correcting mistakes is all about learning to become responsible young adults. While it might be easy to assign a quick punishment, like “go to your room!” or dive into an anger-driven lecture about behavior, giving thoughtful, natural consequences to behaviors gives your child the chance to learn responsible behavior. After all, you aren’t raising a teenager to be a responsible teen — you are raising them to become a responsible adult.

When we punish teens for mistakes, they might push back, especially if they don’t understand the connection between what they did and their punishment. With thoughtful consequences based on learning from mistakes, kids can have a chance to meet their needs while learning responsible behavior. When we set natural consequences for our kids from a thoughtful space ourselves, the work to correct their actions is on them. Sometimes, no matter what we do, our kids might continue to engage in maladaptive behaviors, like running away, drinking, drug use, cutting, social media addiction, or other problems. We might have tried everything for our kids, yet nothing seems to help them. If your child struggles, Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center of Estes Park, Colorado, is here for you and your teen. Call us today at (303) 443-3343 for more information about our treatment program and parent workshops. We’re here to help your family’s fire burn brightest.

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