Many children don't realize that they choose their own attitudes and behaviors. They firmly believe someone or something else is responsible for their actions, and their language reveals that belief. Children often use language to blame an adult, a peer, a sibling, or some other external source for their own attitude or behavior. “That teacher bored me to death during sixth period,” they complain, disowning any responsibility for the creation of their own boredom. “My dad made me do it over,” they whine, giving up responsibility for the part they played in creating an inferior product in the first place. “She got me going,” they respond, in an effort to blame a sister for their own outburst of giggling at the dinner table.  

Does your middle schooler blame others for her actions? Perhaps she says, “The teacher gave me a D” when she should say, “I didn't check my answers and got a D.” Try boosting  your child's sense of responsibility by adding these three words to their daily vocabulary: chose, decide, and pick. You can use these words in many ways:

  • “How come you picked your grumpy mood?”
  • “What response did you choose when the problems got tougher?”
  • “How did you decide to act when your coach pulled you out of the game?”

Choose, decide, and pick are words you can purposefully fit into your parent talk to put responsibility back on your child's shoulders. “If you choose to leave your video games here, you'll be choosing to have them put on the shelf for a week” communicates to your son that you aren't responsible for whether or not he plays his video games next week. He is. “If you choose to have your chores completed by two o'clock, I'll take you to the mall” helps your daughter see that she is in control of going or not going to the mall.

Repetitive use of the words choose, decide, and pick helps children appreciate two sides of the coin: both the power they have over their own lives and the responsibility that comes with it.

Chick Moorman is the author of "Parent Talk: How To Talk To Your Child In Language That Builds Self-Esteem and Encourages Responsibility" and the co-author of "The 10 Commitments: Parenting with Purpose."