You probably sat through more than one parent–teacher conference, listening to Mrs. Got-It-In-For-Your-Kid tell you lies about your perfect student. You say to yourself things like, “It’s this negative environment,” or, “It’s Common Core,” or, “It’s the FDA classifying cafeteria pizza as a vegetable serving.” But, sometimes it’s just your obnoxious kid — and you need to fix it.
John Miller is a father of 7 and creator of the Question Behind the Question (QBQ) method, which aims to get to the root of an issue. It also frees up all that time you’d spend blaming, complaining, and procrastinating and help you take accountability for your life — and your kid for theirs. The good news is that Miller put all of this actionable info in his book Raising Accountable Kids, co-authored with his wife, which applies it directly to parenting. And he wrote The QBQ! Workbook with his daughter Kristin Lindeen, just in case you think Miller didn’t test it on real children.
Here is their combined insight on how to be a positive, accountable parent to positive, accountable kids.
It’s All Your Fault, So Own It
If your kid’s acting out, stop blaming their school or friends or explicit lyrics in hair metal (if you come from the Tipper Gore school of parenting). “What we want is parents, especially young parents, to realize is that ‘My child is a product of my parenting,’” explains John. “And ask ‘What can I do to be a better parent? What can I do to learn new skills?’ Parenting is a learned skill — we’re not born with it.”
The cognitive reframing looks like this: It’s not, “Why is my kid failing in school,” it’s “What can I do to help them get their grades up?” It’s not, “When will they be mature enough to clean their own room,” but “How can I help them learn better habits?”
Get To The Source
Kristin recalls a time when her son Joshua was in kindergarten, and he’d throw tantrum when he came home from school. Timeouts were neither working for him, nor her. “I remember calming myself down and thinking ‘OK, I need a better plan.’ The QBQ was, ‘What can I do to figure out more about the underlying cause than just reacting in the moment?’” she says.
So she went and spoke to her son’s teacher and learned that he was struggling with reading. He would also be pulled out of class for one-on-one work, while the rest of the class got to do fun stuff. “Once I knew that, I was able to go to my son and sit down with him and say ‘I understand now. You’re working all day and your brain is working really hard, and you’re just tired aren’t you?” she says. “He started sobbing and said ‘Yes.’ He just didn’t know how to tell me.”
John and Kristin don’t have any tricks to subtly encourage responsibility and accountability in your kid. The big idea is to reinforce specific ideas, and hold them to their obligations. For example, if her kid is throwing a fit about being asked to pick up his toys, Kristin says, “I actually use the language: ‘You’re responsible for this. ‘You’re responsible for the mess you made.’ We have a conversation.” The same goes for identifying behavior like procrastination or blame. The answer to “Why isn’t your lunch in your backpack?” shouldn’t be “Because you didn’t put it in there, dad.” Call them out on that shit.
Obviously, you also have to practice what you preach. “Modeling is the most powerful of all teachers,” says John. “If they don’t see parents whining about going to work or complaining about a boss or getting angry at the neighbor, then you’ve got a better chance of raising an accountable kid.” Save your drama for their momma.
It Never Ends
You can’t just read a couple of baby books and expect to be set on parenting for life. Each stage is going to be different. Each kid is going to be different. Your job is to adapt and learn new tools. For John and his wife, that became clear when they adopted 3 young sisters and were surprised to find they had challenges they didn’t have with their birth children.
“We thought we were pretty effective parents, but we still had to ask as these kids engaged in behaviors we’d never seen before, ‘What can I do to learn new skills?” he explains. “Any parent can use that question. The accountable parent, the QBQ parent, is going to constantly be asking that.” Miller’s advice: Ignore all those self-help books that tell you to stop questioning yourself, because as a parent, you need to.