Teaching Kids Responsibility: 3 Tips From Dr. Robyn

Throughout July 2012, we’ll be working on the concept of “accountability.”

All our discussions and activities will aim to help our students understand that accountability is closely linked in with being dependable, responsible and trustworthy.

Powerful Words is the name of our character development curriculum here at Urban Martial Arts. It’s designed by one of the nation’s leading childhood development experts, Dr. Robyn Silverman. Every month, we’ll focus on a different Powerful Word, or concept around character development.

In this post, Dr. Robyn answers a question from a parent who wishes her children would take more responsibility when they make mistakes.

Dear Dr. Robyn,

My kids make a lot of mistakes which is to be expected. But when I ask them why they do what they do, they always answer “I don’t know…” Then they want us to help clean up the mess they made or fix the mistake. They don’t take any responsibility and it worries me.

–Bill & Danni W.; Seattle, WA

Dear Bill & Danni,

You are correct– it’s expected that children will make mistakes– as they should!

When they make mistakes at young ages (when the stakes are low) they can apply those life lessons later on in life when the stakes are higher.

However, children must also learn accountability.

It’s a vital part of becoming a successful adult!

Teaching accountability takes a commitment on our part.

We must be willing to let go enough so that our children can make mistakes AND rectify the mistakes once they are made.

That way our children can learn that it’s OK to make mistakes as long as they work to make them right after they make them.

So how can we teach them to be accountable?

(1) Teach them to look back:

Young children aren’t really skilled in answering “why” questions so inquiring “why” they did something often results in the fruitless answer; “I don’t know.”

Instead, ask these two “what” questions when they make a mistake: “What did you do?” and “What happened when you did that?”

When they can tell you what happened and how it affected them and others, they are taking the first step towards being accountable: admitting their contribution to the problem.

(2) Teach them to look forward:

Children need to learn to take action when they make a mistake or contribute to a problem.

Ask these two questions: “What are you going to do?” and “By when are you going to do it?”

When they come up with a plan and have a date or deadline, they are more likely to stay accountable.

(3) Ensure that they have an accountability partner:

Whether we are speaking about a child or an adult, people work best when they are accountable to others.

You can be your children’s accountability partner or someone else they know such as an older sibling, grandparent, coach, or mentor can assume that position.

Ask them; “How will your accountability partner know that you did what you said you were going to do?”

They can tell, text, write, check something off a list, or send a carrier pigeon!

As long as they fulfill their part of their accountability plan, they’re showing powerful behavior!

Here’s to your success!

Dr. Robyn

To give you more ideas for conversation topics, here’s a run-down of what we’ll be discussing this month:

Week 1 Accountability defined: What is it and when do we use it?
Week 2 Good Choices, Bad Choices: Rewards and consequences of our actions.
Week 3 Looking back & forward: Admitting and fixing mistakes.
Week 4 Accountability partners: staying on track with our goals.

About Dr. Robyn:
Dr. Robyn Silverman, child development specialist, body image/body bullying expert, sought-after speaker and award-winning writer, is known for her no-nonsense yet positive approach to helping young people and their families thrive. Her ground-breaking research at Tufts University on young women is the foundation for her book, “Good Girls Don’t Get Fat: How Weight Obsession Is Messing Up Our Girls and How We Can Help Them Thrive Despite It.”

Photo Credit: StephenMitchell on Flickr