Reason: a cause, explanation, or justification for an action or event.
Excuse: seek to lessen the blame attaching to (a fault or offence); try to justify.
Reasons can and are often mistaken for excuses.
If a child refuses to eat their food saying that it feels yucky the parent might think this is an excuse to not eat what they’re given or to be naughty. Not knowing that the child might have a legitimate reason for not wanting the food. Perhaps they’re ill but not yet showing any other signs. Maybe they have sensory issues. The food might not be cooked properly but the adult hasn’t realised.
A teen might say they don’t feel well and ask to stay at home rather than going to the party they’ve been insisting on going to for weeks. The parent might believe they are playing them or are acting up for no reason. The teen might be anxious about socialising outside of school but be unable to recognise the feelings and so think they are ill. They may be unable to properly vocalise their feelings. They may have communication differences which causes them to stand out and be made fun of so even if they want to go out they might be too scared to do so. The teen might have been recently bullied and so be using an excuse to avoid the potential to be bullied further in another situation.
An adult could phone in sick to work again. Their employer might think they are lazy, had been out drinking the day before, are taking advantage of their generosity. The adult could be suffering from chronic fatigue and so not have the energy to actually get to work. They could be depressed and need help. Their anxieties might be higher than normal and be preventing them from leaving the house. They could have an underlying health problem which has yet to be noticed and so could be feeling ill but be unaware of the actual reason.
A mother may agree to send an important email for their partner while they are at work, but when they get home the email hasn’t been sent. The partner may think the mother is selfish, lazy, rude, too busy with the children to care about their partner. The mother might have been too busy and hasn’t had the time but the partner might not have realised how much work the mother actually has to do everyday. The mother could have ADHD/ADD and so had genuinely forgotten. The internet might have been down so she couldn’t send the email anyway. She might have demand avoidance whereby she wanted to send the email but found she literally couldn’t make her body move to write the email.
A man might have agreed to go on a date, turns up for the date but seems disinterested, doesn’t respond to their date and ignores them when they speak. The man may not speak much, seem busy watching the other diners, appear rude and laugh at the wrong time in the conversation. The date may think the man is rude, obnoxious, isn’t actually interested or has changed his mind. The man might actually be having trouble in the environment, it could be too noisy for him to hear/understand what his date is saying. He might have communication difficulties which means he misunderstands what his date is trying to say. The restaurant could be causing his sensory processing problems and he might be unable to focus on his date because of all the movement going on around him. He could be anxious, have difficulty with his hearing, have suffered a recent loss and be distracted by feelings of bereavement.
There are many reasons why people avoid things, don’t do things, do things they normally wouldn’t or shouldn’t do. Our law recognises that there are times when laws and rules are broken for valid reasons. People are still punished for their crimes but if the reason the crime was committed is a valid one then their punishment is reduced. Would you agree that anyone who kills another person should be punished for murder? What if you found out the reason for the murder was because the murderer had caught a man violating his young child, would you still agree to the punishment? And if the murderer hadn’t meant to kill the man but save his child and was too forceful in doing so? What about theft? It’s wrong to steal and thieves should be punished right? What if the thief was a 6 year old boy who was starving, with no family, no home and no money for food. If he stole some bread to prevent himself from dying is that still a punishable offense? What if the food was for his sister who was in the exact same situation? Wouldn’t it be a worse crime to allow someone to die when you are able to take action to save them?
Sometimes there is no right or wrong but something in between. A shade of grey.
When a child says ‘no’ it’s reasonable to presume that the child is being wilful, defiant, naughty. That’s what society has led us to believe. But what if that child is trying to tell you, not that he doesn’t want to, but that he can’t. That there’s a reason for that ‘no’. How do you tell the difference between an excuse and a reason?
Ask them. Figure out why they said no. Don’t just presume it’s an excuse. Find out first which it is. Presuming it’s one when it’s the other can cause long-lasting problems not only to your relationship but also to the child’s self-esteem and their ability to speak out against a problem. Do you want your child to grow up into an adult who thinks every excuse is a reason not to, or a person who thinks there are no reasons, only excuses, and that people who attempt to give reasons are just lazy. A bit extreme but there are people out there who think like that, how did they get like that?
So next time someone gives what you think is an excuse, ask them if it’s really a reason or an excuse. Quiz them. Ask people why they do what they do, or why they don’t do things they should. If it’s a child, pay attention to what their body language is telling you. Listen to what they are saying. Does it sound plausible? Is it something they’ve said before? What happened the last time? What would happen if you let them use their excuse/reason? Is the consequence so bad that you cannot allow it, or is it something they can learn as a natural consequence? And don’t forget, it’s also important to allow our kids to learn to say ‘no’ sometimes, teaching them to have autonomy over their own decisions allows them to learn for themselves how natural consequences work and also how to say ‘no’ in situations where it’s really important that they make the ‘right’ decisions and not buckle under social/peer pressure.