As most of you reading this know, I am writing a book about parenting. One of the chapters in my book is on accountability. If I had to pick one thing that I see parents not instilling in their kids these days, it would be this.
Webster defines accountability as: “the quality or state of being accountable; especially : an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one's actions.” Accountability isn’t something you teach in a moment or an experience. It is something you instill little by little every day. I am starting to really become aware of just how many times in a day there are opportunities to do this with my kids.
One of the most effective ways of teaching anything to our kids is modeling. There are many times in any given day that I wish I hadn’t said or done something, or wished I hadn’t reacted in a certain way. These are perfect times for us, as parents, to own our mishaps. I have overreacted and lost my cool a time or two (or three) and when I thought about it after the fact, most times I was frustrated over something that had nothing to do with my kids. But when my kids did something they shouldn’t have, or didn’t listen to me, I lost it. If and when that happens now, I own it and I apologize. I tell them I was upset about something else and I shouldn’t have reacted that way. I don’t dismiss what they did or didn’t do, but I take responsibility for what I said or did.
Requiring your kids take ownership
In addition to modeling, parents can instill accountability by making our kids take ownership when they do make a mistake. There are so many lessons in this one act. First, no one is perfect. We all make mistakes. The key is to learn from our mistakes. That is how we grow as people. The second is that we cannot become who we were meant to become if we don’t take responsibility. Period. You can do this as a parent by making your child apologize when he makes a mistake.
The apology must include the act he/she is sorry for. If your child gets asked to leave music class because he is being disruptive, just saying “sorry” is not enough. It is a great start, but the real accountability piece comes when you verbalize what the mistake was. So when your child is apologizing to the teacher, it should be something like, “I’m sorry I was disruptive in your class today. It won’t happen again.” This can be done in person, or in a note. A note that your child writes. Yes this is probably going to be uncomfortable for your child. But that is the lesson. Because it is uncomfortable, the hope is they will think twice before doing something similar next time. That is learning from their mistakes.
This is how we instill accountability. You make it part of your daily life. It is not a lesson learned in one brief moment. It is learned through consistency. When your children grow into trustworthy, authentic and accountable adults, they will thank you :)