I don't recall my mom ever having to harp on us to clean up after ourselves, or to pitch in and help around the house, or tell us to do our homework. With four kids in the house, if you left something out it was pretty much fair game for someone to claim. So we just learned early on to put things away when we were done using them. If we didn't, it wouldn't be long before our mom would tell us to stop what we were doing and get up to take care of it.
We knew when we came home from school to put our backpacks, jackets and shoes in our rooms. When we were finished brushing our teeth, we knew to rinse out the sink. Doing it right then and there avoided later interruptions.
When I come home from work it's a very different scene. I honestly don't know what to expect when I open the front door. Sometimes I was convinced Hurricane Alexis or Tornado Matthew must have torn through my house. I am often welcomed with a myriad of dirty socks, backpacks, papers and books that start at the front door and make a strategic trail into the kitchen and family room. One night a few weeks ago, I started to make dinner and noticed my daughter's bra on the kitchen counter. Hello ... this is my kitchen ... I'm cooking your dinner here! Gross! That was it! The next time things were left out like that, they magically disappeared for a few days.
Other times, I'd be in a meeting at work and would receive a distress call that my daughter left her homework in her room and I needed to go home and bring it to her. Or my son would forget to bring the workbook home that was needed to complete his homework assignment. One time, okay. Three times in a month, not okay. The third time my son forgot to bring home his materials, I told him that he needed to explain to the teacher why his work was not done and he had to accept the zero or lower grade if she allowed him to turn his assignment in late.
Although that resulted in tears and begging from my son and as much as I don't want their grades to be affected, my kids need to learn that Mom cannot always come to the rescue. One day they will hopefully be in college and it will be up to them to be organized and self motivated to get their work done.
My point here is that children need to learn to be accountable, more so today than ever before. It's tough out there and let's face it, the real world is not a kind place. We are not always give the opportunity for a "re-do," so the choices we make must count. Drugs, sex, and other pressures are rampant in this young culture and it takes a strong person to make the right decisions. The media hasn't made it any easier by highlighting high profile celebrities getting away with making careless choices with little or no repercussions. Accountability is not an instinct, it is a learned behavior that starts with parents.
Kimberly Brockman of Largo instills accountability in her 9-year-old son, Zachary. "I believe kids should be accountable for everything they say and do. They need to understand their actions and words have consequences. Home is the training ground for kids to build an understanding of respect for others when they go out on their own in the future," she said.
Accountability is not just about putting things away, or doing homework. It's about taking responsibility for actions, words and even failure to act. Children and teens need to learn to balance choices and consequences. If we don't teach these core values, we are setting them up to fail in life. Kids who learn responsibility and accountability have a much better chance of developing strong ethics and becoming successful contributing members of society.
Tim Wagner of Brandon, father of two children under the age of two, believes that teaching accountability should start in the early years. Wagner said,"Kids (and adults) should be accountable for everything. It needs to start at an early stage realizing that actions result in consequences, both good and bad. Kids need to learn that something should not be expected for nothing and that work and perseverance pay off. Take pride in your work, as it represents who you are and what you stand for. You have to ask yourself, how do I want to be remembered, thought of, or what kind of reputation do I want to have? Would you prefer to be thought of as sloppy or unreliable, or would you prefer to be thought of as dependable and solid? I think this works with kids too, you just have to get them to realize everything they do is important. The better quality judgments they make, generally the better quality life they will have."
So how can parents help teach accountability?
- Set an example. Show your kids how you are accountable and responsible. I explained to my kids that it is my responsibility to go to work and earn a living so our family can have the things we need. The cell phones, clothes, video games, and food we eat aren't free and I have to work hard so that we can have the extras that we want. In order to keep my job I have to show up to work every day and fulfill my obligations to the best of my ability or I won't get paid, none-the-less keep a job. It is their responsibility to go to school and make good grades, so that they can get a good job one day and take care of their family. It is important to teach kids early on that one day they will have to be financially and physically responsible for themselves. If my kids ruin something because they didn't take care of it, then they have to go without it. I will not replace something that was damaged or lost due to being irresponsible. When my daughter broke her second camera, I told her she had to pay for it if she wanted another one.
- Look for teachable moments. For instance, if you realize that your kindergartener has swiped a pack of gum while you were checking out at the register, have them go back into the store, return the gum to an employee and make them apologize for taking it. They will be sure to think twice about taking something again. Simply taking the item away from them when you get home and not insisting accountability will do nothing for your kids, and nothing will be learned.
- Establish regular chores so that they can earn privileges. This is a great way to teach kids that hard work does reap rewards. When they finish their chores they can spend time with friends or watch television. Until then they will not be able to. Parents need to set clear consequences.
- Chores also teach kids how to control the environment in which they live. If they choose to keep a messy room, then it's possible friends will not want to stay over because it's dirty or smells, or they may not be able to find something that they want to use. I refuse to wash the clothes my kids keep on the floor. If it's not in a laundry basket, it won't get clean and they will run out of clothes to wear.
- Coach without criticizing. If your child gets into an altercation with a classmate, whether his fault or not, teach them to be accountable for their part in the situation. Ask them what they could have done differently to have a more positive outcome. Teaching control versus acting on impulse is critical as they transition into adulthood. How they learn to handle situations as a child will better prepare them on how to interact with peers and figures of authority.
- Persevere. The most important aspects of teaching accountability is to never to give up on your kids and always follow through. Kids will test the waters which is why consequences must occur or no lessons will be learned.
Creating a culture of accountable children is not an unreachable goal for parents. Kids can learn what is expected of them and learn to be responsible for their actions and behaviors. The earlier accountability is taught in the home, the more natural the behavior will become to your child as they move forward in life. No matter how old a person is, it is never too late to teach this vital life skill!
Visit your local craft store to get what you need to create a fun chore schedule or reward chart:
Michaels Arts & Crafts
3804 S. Dale Mabry Highway
14829 N. Dale Mabry Highway