The Five A’s of Helping Children Learn Accountability
- What was the Action?
- Why are they Accountable?
- Let’s Acknowledge the issue.
- Assess what needs to change.
- See if Amends are needed.
After they have misbehaved, children hide behind the word “but” justifying their behavior by assigning responsibility to an outside force which “made” them behave in a certain manner. Justifying inappropriate behavior leads to increased negative ramifications later in life. As they learn about consequences, their decision making process becomes clarified. For example, if you ask them to unload the dishwasher and they chose to play video games instead, you will often hear “mom, I was going to, but…” This is the rationalization and here is when a parent must hold their child accountable.Accountability means clearly conveying how their action or inaction is their responsibility and since it’s their responsibility; they are accountable. Remember, the earlier this message is conveyed to a child (in a contextually appropriate manner), the easier parenting is.
It makes sense doesn’t it? Trying to teach a 16 or 17-year-old accountability after years of being unaccountable or having excuses made in their behalf, present a tougher challenge than if you had spent that time teaching accountability lessons.
When a child discovers how they are responsible, they have the opportunity to make a different choice. When they learn from this paradigm, acknowledgement comes more quickly. When a child is dealing with the emotional complexity of feeling blamed and shamed, it is very challenging for them to acknowledge their actions. If the paradigm becomes one of learning opportunities being presented and these opportunities are part of the growth process of growth, children have more emotional space to acknowledge and learn from these opportunities.
Eliminate the excuses of children justifying their actions by blaming another. This appears in sentences following the word “but.” After you hear that, you are going to hear a rationalization, excuse, or blame of some external force. Parents can step in and help the child to assess the situation. What was the action? Why did you take the action? Why did you think was right or why did you think it wasn’t wrong? This process of assessment is focused on finding out how the child thinks. Remember, that the do not have the emotional or brain development that an adult possesses, they don’t look at things as an adult would.
Children can only act with the tools or consciousness that they have in this moment; and sometimes this is the behavior that is inappropriate. Most children, if given the right life-skill for the situation, have high levels of empathy and understanding. But, when you only have a hammer- everything looks like a nail. We have to fill their “life-skills” tool belt with a hammer, screwdriver, tape measure, pliers, and other ways to handle complex emotions and situations they don’t yet know how to handle. When you assess these together, you work as a team to set clear expectations for future behavior and consequences for inappropriate behavior.
Change doesn’t take place overnight. As you use this system, blame and shame is being removed from the interaction and the paradigm shifts towards accountability.
It’s impossible to make amends in each and every situation. If it can be done, whether a simple apology or symbolic token it often helps the closure process. Be aware of being manipulated by the quick “I’m sorry” with the child attempting to move on as a means to distance themselves from the consequences of their behavior. You will learn to develop a sense as to whether this statement is authentic or not.
Conscious parenting is a complex endeavor. We do our best in each situation but we’re all fallible. Own this in front of your children. As you display your humanness, you also show them you are growing and trying your best. This way, you mentor them and assist them in learning more complex ways of handling situations.
Despite what you say to your children, the model you exhibit is much more powerful than the words that you are using. When consciousness and humanity is displayed dealing with their shortcomings and mistakes, you present an opportunity for connection that goes beyond a particular incident. You do your best; they do their best. Working together this way leaves blame and shame and instead embraces a paradigm of respect, consciousness, and communication.