By Susan Kurlander, M.Ed.
How many times have we, as parents, heard our children say, “It’s not my fault — she made me hit her; he made me late for school; she called me ‘stupid’ first; he left my bike out in the rain?” How easy it is for children to blame someone else for their actions, thereby deeming themselves not accountable for any unacceptable, irresponsible behavior. How much easier it can be for parents to punish their child for that negative behavior.
According to James Lehman, author of The Total Transformation, “Punishing your child into good behavior doesn’t work … [it’s best to] use effective consequences that motivate your child to better behavior.” Creating an environment of accountability for everyone in the family will encourage children to understand one of the most critical parenting statements: “When you choose a behavior, you choose a consequence.” The most important word in that statement being “you.”
How do we encourage accountability in our children? Here are some suggestions:
- Allow natural consequences to happen whenever possible. If your child leaves their bike out in the rain and it becomes unusable, don’t rush out to buy them a new one. Let them earn the money to replace it, therefore instilling confidence (in you and in them) that they will be able to handle other situations that arise.
- Choose consequences that relate to the behavior. If your teen breaks a curfew, have them come an hour earlier the next time they’re out with friends.
- Enforce consequences promptly, consistently, and with dignity and respect. Enforcing the consequence one time but excusing the behavior another time will cause confusion and frustration and encourage your child to try and “get away” with the same behavior in the future.
- Choose the behaviors you wish to change or, in other words, pick your battles. Setting up a consequence for every unacceptable/irresponsible action may create fear, lower self-esteem, or cause rebellion.
- If possible, encourage your child to be part of establishing consequences. Oftentimes, they may be more stringent than you.
- Post family rules on the refrigerator so everyone is clear as to the intent. For example: Name calling is not allowed.
- Help your child create a list of suggested coping skills that they can use when they are tempted to choose unacceptable behaviors. According to Lehman, “cueing” (reminding them of those suggested coping skills) will help them determine the best option and remain accountable to themselves.
- Role play situations with your child so they can practice what they may say or do the next time a similar situation presents itself.
- Acknowledge and appreciate times when you see your child being responsible for their actions.
- Encourage positive consequences such as receiving an allowance and then buying something special if your child chooses positive behavior in a situation that could have gone in a different direction.
- Encourage your child to apologize for their behavior. Taking it to the next level, have them make amends to correct what was broken or hurtful.
According to “Roots and Wings,” a parenting program developed by the Hazelden Foundation and offered through Prevention and Wellness programming at Jewish Community Services, “Consequences work best within a trusting relationship. Rules without a trusting relationship often lead to rebellion, but rules grounded in trust help children feel loved and secure.” Feeling loved and secure through accountability will help your child be better able to handle current and future situations in school, the workplace, and in their personal relationships. Make no mistake — by setting rules that hold your child accountable for their unacceptable/irresponsible actions, you are giving them a life tool they will never outgrow.
How To Create a Culture of Accountability in Your Home by Megan Devine, LCPC (Empowering Parents.com)
The Total Transformation by James Lehman
“Roots and Wings Parent Handbook,” the Hazelden Foundation
Susan Kurlander, M.Ed. is a Health Educator at Jewish Community Services.
Jewish Community Services (JCS) is dedicated to providing programs and services that help people of all ages and backgrounds achieve their goals and enhance their wellbeing.
To learn more, visit jcsbalt.org or call 410-466-9200.