Frankly, this tip is not much fun. Who wants to pay the bills after we’ve been on a spending spree? Who wants to follow through on a commitment when something better comes along? Who wants to empty the trash? We struggle to be mindful and responsible ourselves, and now we have to teach it to our children? Yes, we do, because if we don’t, there’s little hope for them.
To be accountable means to be responsible or answerable to someone for something. It involves taking responsibility for our own actions and knowing that our actions impact others, good or bad. To be accountable is to bear the consequences of our own mistakes, avoid blaming others, and know how to follow-through. A careless kid feels no accountability to anyone. A kid who cares knows, first of all, that he or she is accountable to you, the parents. You’re watching them. You’re not going to make excuses for their bad behavior and bale them out. Okay, maybe sometimes you will, but not more than a few times in any given area!
In time, that sense of accountability should extend beyond you to others. Your kids need to know, for example, with a little coaching from you, that they are accountable to their teachers and other authorities. You may also choose to teach them that they are ultimately accountable to the “Man Upstairs,” because, after all, you can’t always be there, but He can. You see, you want your kids to act responsibly whether or not a person is there to notice. Moreover, you want them to act responsibly even when their peers are pressuring them to do the opposite. Is this too much to expect? I don’t think so. We need to have high expectations of our kids because low expectations certainly won’t get them anywhere!
Speaking of such, it’s unfortunate that people often expect their kids to become irresponsible, if not reckless, upon reaching the teen years. I want to encourage you to be unafraid of what’s ahead. You may discover that your best family adventures come when your kids are all-of-a-sudden taller than you. In fact, all my parenting tips are designed with your future in mind. My philosophy is simple: if we practice principals of wise parenting when our kids are little, our job will get easier as the years go by. In theory, at least. I don’t presume to know the particular curveballs you will have that may make one phase of parenting more challenging than another, but generally, the work you put into parenting when your kids are young, will pay off later.
This tip on accountability is a case in point. When my kids first started to bring home schoolwork, I let them know it was their responsibility, not mine. Often I would tell them that I had my own homework to do, and I would work right alongside them on something I brought home from the office. Working closely beside your kids is a good way to encourage and support them, without taking away the opportunity for them to solve their own problems and accomplish their own work.
Today, I have a home office and my teen kids still tend to do their homework beside me. I only have so much desk space, so they sprawl their books on the floor and work stretched out and rolling around. My office is a veritable think tank sometimes. No music, no TV—just a lot of thinking, working, and occasionally talking and laughing (or moaning) about something. I highly recommend this setup. A kitchen table would work, if you don’t have an office. It’s nice to have a desk in your child’s room, but most people (even grownups!) get lonely working by themselves. Furthermore, as your children get older, their assignments will require the computer, and with the increase of undesirable websites, you need to be nearby when they are online.
If you don’t have “homework” to do yourself, you can read a newspaper or pay bills beside them. Better yet, go ahead and read one of their textbooks so you can see what they’re learning and discuss it with them (which is entirely different than doing their homework). To clarify my main point, teaching your kids early on to be accountable in this area will pay off later, and it’s a big pay-off, one reason being that high school math is way beyond most of our parental talents!
I elaborated on homework because it is relevant to all of us, but you will, of course, have many opportunities elsewhere to teach your children accountability. The goal is not perfection. We all make mistakes, but when we do, therein lies another opportunity to take responsibility and actually learn from them.
With this discussion on accountability, as with all my tips (you can read back issues on activekidsdirectory.com), it’s helpful to know if you are a lenient or strict parent. Maybe you tend to be lenient in, say, table manners, but strict when it comes to picking up toys. Know thyself, and then you can better assess what your KIDS need in any given situation and modify your parenting accordingly. To complicate matters, you probably have a spouse who is tough where you are a pushover and soft where you are firm. While this can be exasperating, it is actually advantageous! (That is, if you can avoid arguing about your differences in front of the kids!) Between the two of you, your children will experience grace and discipline—they need both.
To teach accountability is to build your child’s inner strength. We give so much to our kids; let’s not forget to give our best when it comes to fostering in them this character trait that leads to peace of mind, honest accomplishments, and trusting relationships.
By Gail Perry Johnston. Gail Perry Johnston is the author of The Social Cause Diet: Find A Service That Feeds Your Soul and The Wish & The Wonder: Words of Wisdom for Expectant Parents. Find her books on amazon or www.cupolapress.com. You can email your ideas or parenting anecdotes to firstname.lastname@example.org