Even the youngest kids benefit from knowing they are responsible for their behavior. Personal accountability means teaching kids that actions have consequences. Protecting our kids and shielding them from these consequences can have a far-reaching impact on their ability to be personally accountable in the childhood years and beyond. In other words, we hurt our kids when we fail to hold them accountable for their behavior.
Teaching kids personal accountability means teaching them that mistakes happen, but they are responsible for making amends when those mistakes happen. It means teaching them to right their wrongs, whether or not someone is watching. It means teaching kids that they cannot always control how things work out, but they can make things better or at least avoid making the same mistakes over and over again.
Here are a few tips to encourage kids to create a culture of personal accountability.
1 | Don’t be a “sometimes” parent
Consistency is key if we want to help kids develop accountability for their behavior. This doesn’t mean being strict about each and every little thing – sometimes you have to let some things slide. It means reflecting on the values that matter most to you and your family and parenting in ways that are consistent with those values.
It’s easier to guide your kid’s behavior when he knows exactly what is expected of him and the consequences of misbehavior. It’s also easier to make your kid accountable when he’s aware of your non-negotiable values.
2 | Allow kids to be responsible for their actions
We’re often too quick to rescue our kids even when holding them accountable for their actions can help teach them to make amends when things go wrong. Even a four-year-old who spills her glass of water on the table can help clean it up, which teaches her that spilling water is normal, but cleaning the mess up is also normal.
Science suggests that giving kids chores also encourages them to develop important skills such as responsibility and accountability. It also makes them more self-reliant. Giving kids age-appropriate chores is associated with social, emotional and academic benefits
Encouraging kids to participate in decision-making also helps develop their accountability. It has been proven that when we involve kids in decision-making and show them that we care about their opinions, they are more likely to feel accountable for their behavior.
3 | Personal responsibility is not about punishing kids
Teaching kids personal responsibility is not about punishing or disciplining them. It’s about teaching them to make amends for intentional or unintentional behavior. When you tell your kid, “I know you didn’t mean to, you can use the broom to sweep it up,” you don’t point fingers or make him feel defensive about his behavior. You simply state what happened and give him a solution to make amends.
4 | Provide developmentally appropriate choices
Many power struggles with our kids can be solved when we realize that kid’s behavior is rarely about us. What we perceive as misbehavior is not always an attempt to challenge our power. Your kid will behave as kids the world over do at that particular age.
That said, it is important to differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate behavior and to propose age-appropriate consequences. A kid below age two won’t sweep the food she’s dropped on the floor by herself but she can bring the dustpan and help clean up the mess.
Age-appropriate choices also matter when selecting the chores kids can participate in. Kids below age three are able to pick up their toys and place them in the appropriate toy rack or even help dust surfaces. From age three, kids can pick out their clothes and get dressed by themselves or help set and clear the table.
5 | Do as you say
The best way to teach kids about personal accountability is by being accountable yourself. When your kids see you apologize, apologizing for their mistakes becomes normal. When they see you make amends, they learn that it is normal to be accountable for one’s behavior. When they see you cleaning up after your messes, they learn to clean up after theirs.
Teaching kids about personal accountability is really about letting them know they are responsible for the consequences of their actions.