Focus On You: It’s Your Responsibility

Sometimes I feel like a broken record.


For FOUR YEARS I’ve been telling Marissa to focus on herself whenever she orders her little sister around or tattles on her. Most of the time when Marissa gets involved in Dalia’s business, I think it’s because she wants to feel superior.


It makes sense: I’m sure it’s really hard being told what to do by adults all day long. She wants to boss someone around for a change.


I’ve noticed that Marissa often tells Dalia to do things that she, herself, needs to do.


For example, she’ll tell Dalia to clean up her toys when her own toys are all over the floor, too. Or she’ll arrogantly inform me that Dalia didn’t brush her teeth before bed, though she forgets all the time.


Instead of taking responsibility for her own actions, she’s focused on how to control Dalia’s.


Ideally, Marissa would be concerned with her own behavior and stop interfering when it comes to Dalia.


But focusing on ourselves and taking responsibility isn’t easy. Who wants to admit their imperfections or change their behavior? It’s so much simpler to think about what other people are doing and criticize, judge, or complain about that.


The reason I’m so conscious of Marissa’s difficulty in this area is because it’s something I’ve had to work on, too. Focusing on me means taking responsibility for the things I have control over and letting go of the things I don’t.


Instead of obsessing over how to control my kids so they behave a certain way, I try to be more concerned with how I want to behave.


Here’s an example. This morning Marissa left her homework on the kitchen table (again).



Instead of wondering, “How can I get her to remember her homework?” I thought, “How do I want to behave in this situation?”


Do I want to:


A. Yell, “How many times have I told you to put your homework in your backpack when it’s finished?”

B. Shame her by saying, “Great job. You’ve done it again. Will you ever learn to be responsible?”

C. Rescue her by bringing her homework to school (basically ensuring that she doesn’t learn her lesson)?

D. Stay calm and ask, “What will help you remember to put your homework away when you’re done with it?”


Which response is most likely to have her take responsibility for herself? Which response helps maintain a loving connection?


Obviously, D is the best option (I’ll be using this approach tonight).


I’ve used this technique of focusing on my own reaction before and it actually works!


Marissa and Dalia were arguing over a lion stuffed animal. Marissa came to me whining, “Mommy! Dalia just grabbed Lionel away from me and won’t give him back!”


“Gosh!” I said, sounding a little June Cleaver-ish. “That’s so frustrating!”


“Yeah, it is!” Marissa agreed emphatically.


“I trust that the two of you will work it out.” I told her, without even looking up from my book.


Do you know what she did? She walked back into the living room and continued playing with Dalia. Just like that!


I didn’t try to solve her problem or interfere. I didn’t get upset about the fighting. I simply empathized with her and encouraged her to take responsibility for her dilemma.


See how much easier parenting can be when we stop taking responsibility for our kids and focus on ourselves instead?


In the comments below, tell me: In what situations do you feel the urge to jump in and fix your child’s problems?


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Showing 5 comments
  • Sydney Siegel

    So helpful! Thanks Pam! The options got my mind thinking about a couple of situations I am dealing with!

    • Pam Howard

      Awesome, Sydney! Thanks for commenting 😊

  • Stephanie

    Such a smart technique to use with spouses too. 🙂 I’m so curious to know whether Marissa came up with some ideas! Any updates from the homefront?

  • Kelly Pietrangeli

    I absolutely loved everything about this post! From the way you laid out those four options of reacting to the forgotten homework to the hilarious visual of the arrows pointing at said homework! Such a great read.

    I’ve always struggled with ‘reflective listening’ and not reacting, but just listening and empathising. My natural reaction is to jump straight in there and fix the problem, but I know that’s not the best thing for my kids.

    Thanks for the reminder to press my mental pause button and think about my best response first.

  • Clare Greig

    Ooh I want to try that one. Thanks so much for that tip. My kids are a bit younger but I think Harrison 4 is starting to understand.
    Great blog, thanks

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