How to hold a child accountable

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Accountability and the choices they make is a big lesson for kids to learn!

The role a parent plays in the lives of a child is to nurture them and provide opportunities for them to learn and explore themselves. As a child’s educator, guide, authority and counselor we can provide much for them. When they are young it feels like we are making most if not all of the choices for them. As they begin to grow though they are making choices about many parts of their life. By the time they are off to school the choices they make are now having an effect on them.

I believe this was one of the biggest revelations in my parenting life about children, choices, and control. As a first time parent, I thought I could control a lot of the end outcomes of my children. Even when my youngest was born I still thought I could make him into what I thought he should be. I tried my hardest to get him interested in sports and other areas of life that were of interest to me. All he wanted to do was read, watch movies and a few other creative activities. I did not get it, understand or particularly even like.

But I finally got the lesson. My job was to give him opportunities to explore, but in the end, it was his choice. While keeping commitments, following through and finishing started tasks were all lessons that I helped him to learn, I had a lot less to do with his personality, likes and dislikes, and who he was growing into being as a young adult. The reason I tell this story is that many of us parents figure out at a point in our parenting career that everything a child does is a choice they are making.

Even when they are younger they choose to go along with our request for their own reasons. It may be so they do not to get into trouble, or because they want something later on. But they make a choice. When we the parents learn to allow them to make choices after we educate them in the consequences of their choice we are doing two things:

  1. We are teaching them how to make choices
  2. We are teaching them to deal with the consequences.

So how do we do this when they are young? There was a young boy in my martial arts school one time who was about 5 years old. His mother came in a big hurry, flustered because she felt the need to go back to her son’s school and get his homework that he had forgotten to put in his backpack. What she was not thinking about was the lesson this was teaching the young boy. He was learning that if he made a mistake that mom or dad would swoop in and fix it for him.

Now really at the age of five one homework paper is not going to ruin his career later in life. But if he does not learn to be accountable for his responsibilities that could follow him for a very long time in life. It is hard as a parent to see your child not get what they want. But the actual consequence in this situation is less dramatic than years from now when trouble or mistakes are made and mom or dad is not there to fix them. Accountability in small things when they are young help them to grow into responsible men and women, accountable for themselves.

How children learn responsibility

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In a quote from Abigail Van Buren about responsibility she encouraged parents to put some responsibility on the shoulders of children. In today’s world, there are two somewhat opposing opinions about responsibility and children. One camp promotes the idea that children should be allowed to be children and the other camp suggests that they need to have responsibilities if they are going to stand on their own two feet as adults.

Unfortunately we often see big swings in the thoughts about parenting that shift from one extreme to the other. As with most thoughts, ideas, and practices, balance is critical so that neither extreme is placed on the child. I would agree that it is important to allow children to be children. They need time to play and learn about themselves.We see youngsters playing sports earlier and earlier while studies have shown that waiting and allowing fine motor skills to catch up to gross motor skills is the way to play at a higher level later in life.

More troubling is that in the world of childhood from fashion, cosmetics, and risky behaviors like drug and alcohol, sexual activity, trouble with the law has gone from a mid-teen issue to the 8-12-year-olds. Many of these children are seeing themselves as independent and as described by the Manhattan – Institute “isolated from family and neighborhood, shrugged at by parents, dominated by peers”. Even in my speaking with children, they may have very few chores or responsibilities within the family, saying Oh we have a cleaning person or I don’t have to do …. Someone does that for me.

The virtue of responsibility is known by every adult to be a part of everyday life. So how do we help our children to learn to be held accountable and allow them to have a childhood?  It is simply about how old the child is and where they are in their developmental stage. Giving a child a task to be responsible for does not need to be given as an authoritarian taskmaster.

Beginning at an early age showing a child how to do a task and then allowing them to do it to the best of their ability without insisting on perfection is a great start. It may be picking up the toys together, pulling the covers up on the bed. Later as they get older they might learn to match socks, unload the silverware, and soon they are able to sort the laundry and put dishes away. These are all ways for them to contribute to the family and feel needed.

Responsibility though is also about learning to keep their promises and commitments. We can teach them that getting to events or things they are participating in on time is showing responsibility. This they can learn by using language to guide them to that understanding. We may say to them, “When we get to your lessons on time, we are showing responsibility.” Later if you need to get them to move more quickly you may direct them by saying, “I need you to show responsibility and be ready to leave in 10 minutes.

Responsibility can be practiced as they learn about returning items that are borrowed and making sure they are in good condition when we return them. It may be a toy or a library book, but when we guide them with the word and the behavior they begin to understand what responsibility looks like.

As they get older we can begin to introduce the idea of prioritizing our tasks and putting the biggest and most important tasks first, even if it is more fun to do the other ones. Some children can have this virtue even overdeveloped and we may need to help them to use moderation and flexibility. However, rescuing our children from things that they are developmentally prepared for, just to give them an easier life is not helping them grow up to be contributing members of society. Keeping the balance though will allow them plenty of time for play which is equally important to their development.

Teaching responsibility is R.A.D.

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Responsibility is one of the character traits that parents want to see their children develop as they grow into adulthood. Parents know that being able to respond to the what is needed, expected or required in any circumstance we meet in life is critical for our reputation, relationships even self-esteem.

If we begin as we do with all of the virtues with the belief that all humans have all the attributes inside of them from the very beginning, the question is how do we help our child see it for themselves and discern the need to develop it fully? If responsibility is one of the virtues that are important in your family if it is one of your top 3-5 virtues you will want to envision and describe what ‘responsibility’ looks like in your family.

Take a few minutes to determine how you will know that you are responsible and what is the developmental stage of your child for developing their character of responsibility? Is there a chore they might be assigned – not as a job – but as their part of being on the team (the family). Describe for them some of the things in the household that mom, dad, and others do that the family depends on them doing.

Responsibility is about being Reliable, Accountable and Dependable. So if there is one person in the home that does the cooking talk about how others depend on the preparation of meals, the importance of reliability and how you feel accountable to give your best effort.

When it is time for your child to contribute to the family answer the questions of reliability, accountability, and dependability. Maybe the child is asked to serve the family by feeding the dog in the morning and the evening. What would show reliability on this assignment? Who is depending on them to complete the chore on time? How are they going to be held accountable? Is there a consequence for not contributing to the family by doing your task?

It may be that a checklist is needed to be sure the child (or even us parents) remember what we are responsible for in the family. Soon each member of the family is learning the roles they play, and others can depend on us to do what we say we will do and know that we will give our best effort.

The goal is that our contribution to the family chores is carried out in a super-responsible way. I mean the completion of duties without us being asked to do them or reminded that they need fulfillment – then we are showing responsibility in a super way. Chores, responsibilities, contributions to the welfare of the family can be discussed and divvied up at a planned family meeting, giving everyone the opportunity to ask for help and agree to what and how they will contribute to the team.

Gifts of Character: Responsibility – The Definition

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Each month we will discuss one life skill with all of our students. This month’s skill is Responsibility. This life skill will be defined in the following ways for our students.

Young students: I’m the one who gets the job done!

Older students: Doing what is required, needed or expected of us.

We are not your typical after school activity, in fact, we are an education center, working with students on physical self-defense skills while empowering families to bring out the best in our children and ourselves – through the martial arts. We believe every child has 52 gifts in them already. They only need to be taught how to grow and use them in their life. Balanced Life Skills serves parents, teachers, and students to reach that goal.

If you would like to see Joe Van Deuren and Balanced Life Skills at work, TRY CLASSES FOR FREE for 2 weeks.

How to practice fairness and accountability

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Fairness is about everyone getting what they deserve and need. However, it has been observed that many times folks focus on what they want and not so much on what others may need or deserve. In a world where it seems that life is not fair at times and many do not get what they deserve the question we ask ourselves is how can I practice fairness and keep integrity to the values I believe are suitable for all.

If we are in a position of power over others whether it is as a teacher, parent or employer, we will do well to start with not asking others to do something that we would not be willing to do ourselves. As children watch us and how we deal with each other and them they are learning how we practice fairness in our everyday life. Do we share the chores at home with other family members? Are the tasks we assign others just the things we do not like to do? How do we respond when we make a mistake?

When a mistake is made, many times there is a cover-up by claiming not to know who made the mess, or by blaming it on another person. When a child sees this done by an older sibling or an adult who is deemed a leader in the community, they are not learning accountability and responsibility for the action. They are seeing injustice taking place, and in some way, this may permit them to do the same. So what is fair when mistakes are made?

Fairness calls for us to admit that we made a mistake, apologize for the error – the Balanced Life Skills way by saying, “I am sorry for _____.” and following it up with restitution or making it right. Taking these steps will help our children to see fairness displayed practically. In fact, we can name sharing responsibilities, being accountable for mistakes as fairness when talking to our children and acknowledge them for their appropriate actions with others.

While this all seems like giving others what they need, fairness must always be balanced with assertiveness and justice for ourselves. Fairness is for everyone to find the balance in what we need and deserve.

Bringing out fairness in our children

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While hearing the refrain, “That’s not fair” comes when someone is not getting an emotional need met, many times it occurs when the rules are not followed, or it is perceived that someone has an unfair advantage by bending the rules. No matter where we find ourselves, playing a game with the family, a competitive team sport, in the corporate world or when competing for a grant to help a good cause there are rules and expectations that we expect everyone will be following.

There are times though that one family member forgets whose turn it is, or an opposing team does not follow the rules, or there is an underhanded dealing in our work, and things are not fair for all of the competitors. Every culture, organization, competition has both rules and ethics that have been agreed to or are understood by most parties and our understanding them helps us to conduct ourselves in a way that makes everyone appreciate how much we value the virtue of fairness.

To help our children understand that all of us need to work within the rules and ethics of the groups, we belong to we can use something as simple as having a driver’s license. The rules of the road are there, so we take turns at intersections, know which side of the road to drive on, and what all the signs on the road mean. These keep us safe. There are also ethics and good manners involved. While there may not be a rule about who gets a parking space, ethics, good manners say that if someone has their blinker on indicating their desire for a parking space, that we do not jump in front of them – just because we could. It is the fair thing to do.

When bringing out the best in our children fairness can be acknowledged in them when we see them;

  • taking turns in a game,
  • sharing food (especially a dessert) or toys,
  • when they had not complained about the time you needed to make for their sibling when they were sick, or
  • after a game that everyone did follow the rules.

Later you will recognize them for playing in competitive sports without complaining to a referee or about a bad grade they received on a school paper.

Look for those small occasions of fairness and point them out as such so that at a later time when they are upset about something that does not feel fair to them,  you can guide them to being fair with others and they will have a good understanding what fairness looks like in your family.

Fairness is a virtue that involves our respect for others and giving them the dignity everyone deserves. It is the practice of justice for everyone, even when we wish that things had a different outcome.