Guest Column: Teaching your child accountability

November 2, 2011

By Dr. Raymond J. Huntington

It’s time for you to start being more responsible.”

If you’ve ever heard yourself saying these words to your child, you’ve likely reached the stage where you feel he or she needs to take ownership of his or her decisions and the consequences that result from those decisions. As your child moves from childhood to adolescence, it is important to gradually give him or her more responsibilities, but more than that, it is important to teach children that they — not their parents or anyone else — are accountable for their actions.

How can you encourage your child to practice accountability in his or her daily life? What are the benefits of doing so? Here are several things to know about raising an accountable child.

Children need a little freedom to make choices. When your child was very young, you likely made most of his or her decisions. However, as your child grows older, give him or her opportunities to make choices, even if you are afraid he or she might make a wrong choice (or different choice than you might make). Children who are empowered learn to think on their own and take initiative. Empowerment is an important part of accountability.

Children need the skills to weigh different decisions. It’s difficult to teach your child to be accountable without giving him or her the tools to navigate problems that may come his or her way. Teach your child to carefully consider the various facets of any decision, and to weigh pros and cons of all sides. And when your child makes mistakes, teach him or her to evaluate how things went wrong in his or her decision-making process. What would he or she do differently, looking back? How will lessons learned impact future decisions?

Parents cause more harm than good by removing children from difficult situations. No parent likes seeing his or her child struggle, but while fixing your child’s problems may make you feel better, it has negative consequences for your child. Long-term repercussions can include diminished self-esteem, an inability to cope with even the smallest of failures, and the belief that mom and dad will forever be there to right the wrongs. The best thing you can do for your child is help him or her learn to solve problems on his or her own, which will give him or her the confidence — and the resourcefulness — to overcome challenges.

Parents should model good behavior. Do you blame others for your mistakes? Do you ever act helpless or passive instead of proactive? If you find a flaw in yourself, do you ignore it? If you truly want your child to learn accountability and become responsible for him or herself, you must practice what you preach. Be sure your child sees you striving to be a responsible person each day, owning up to your mistakes, and asking for help when you need it.

Accountability is one of the building blocks for success. Teaching your child to be accountable will result in numerous long-term benefits — he or she will be a more confident, positive person who feels in control of his or her own life. Develop your child’s sense of accountability and watch him or her become a more prideful, engaged student and person of character.

Parents who want additional information are encouraged to call the local Huntington Learning Center at (815) 395-1010.

Dr. Raymond J. Huntington and Eileen Huntington are co-founders of Huntington Learning Center, which has been helping children succeed in school for more than 30 years. For more information about Huntington, call 1-800 CAN LEARN.

From the Nov. 2-8, 2011, issue

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