Tips on Teaching Children Accountability From an Early Age

Having accountability is a concept that may be confusing for children, but understanding this idea is critical to the maturing process. Here are Tutor Doctor’s tips on teaching children accountability from an early age.

For us adults, the concept of accountability is easy to understand. If you’re responsible for a project at work that doesn’t get completed on time, you can be held accountable. If you’re driving over the speed limit in your car, you can be held accountable. Oxford Dictionary defines accountability as “the fact or condition of being accountable; responsibility.”

Unfortunately, when we talk about accountability, we are almost always using a negative connotation that is often associated with a repercussion or punishment of some sort. And that truly is unfortunate – being “held accountable” is often used interchangeably with “held liable.” As an interesting side note, “on account of” is often used in a positive way – “The project was completed ahead of schedule on account of Sally’s diligent efforts.” Still, for the purpose of this blog, accountability is defined as accepting both the responsibility (or fault) as well as the results of one’s actions.

When it comes to kids, accountability can be harder to instill. Here are a few tips:

1. Don’t make excuses for them. If your child is in a situation that was totally avoidable and created by their own doing, don’t “bail them out.” Here’s a classic example: a student waits to start a big project until the night before it’s due – only to find that their laptop battery is dead and the computer won’t start. Although we understand the desire to protect our children from consequences, situations like the one described above should be used as a teaching experience. If the student hadn’t waited until the last minute to start, they would have discovered their computer problems earlier – in other words, there really is no excuse. Instead of writing an email to your student’s teacher on their behalf, take a step back and let your student accept the consequences (which will most likely be a reduction in points for turning in a late assignment).

2. Model appropriate behavior. If you find yourself in a situation where you have to take accountability for something, try your best to model positive behavior in front of your children. Even as adults, we make mistakes all the time – try to use these moments to explain accountability to your child.

3. Follow through. If you warn your child that there will be consequences to their actions, make sure to follow through. In the example used above, a parent might say a week before the assignment was due “I’m not going to write an email to your teacher if something goes wrong because you waited until the last minute.” Follow through! The bottom line is this: if you help your child avoid the direct repercussions to their actions, you are also taking away much of the accountability that they should be held responsible for.

4. Teach them to see failure in a positive light. We get it – no one likes to fail. It’s not a good feeling, and failure often comes paired with strong emotions that can be difficult to manage. Still, it’s important to remember that setbacks throughout life develop resilience. In addition, failure also teaches us ways to create new strategies in order to avoid the same mistakes. To learn more about teaching children to see failure in a positive light, check out our blog on the topic.