Discovery Point Blog

April 27, 2021

Teaching Children to Take Responsibility for Their Actions

Are you tired of your child’s excuses? If they never seem to take responsibility for their own actions, it may be time to teach them about accountability. 

It’s natural for us to want to shift the blame onto others to avoid negative consequences. However, at some point we have to learn this behavior won’t get us anywhere we want to go. 

The earlier you teach your child to stop the cycle of excuses and blame shifting, the easier it will be for them to take responsibility for their own actions when it really matters.

Cultivating a Culture of Accountability

The first step in teaching your child to take responsibility is to cultivate a culture of accountability within the home. This means every member of the family is held accountable to a clear set of rules and expectations. Everyone is responsible for their own actions and reactions, even in stressful situations.

Only by making accountability an integral part of the way your family interacts with one another can your children truly learn to take responsibility for their actions. If they see a sibling or even a parent get away with bad behavior by shifting the blame, it’s easy for them to believe such a loophole exists for them as well.

Creating a culture of accountability for your family won’t happen overnight. It takes time for everyone to learn there are real repercussions for their actions. Be patient and understand you’re building a framework for the future that will not only cut down on the number of excuses you have to hear on the daily, but will also help your children grow into responsible adults.

Start By Controlling Your Own Reactions

When your child makes an excuse for their behavior and insists something isn’t their fault, don’t feed into the power struggle by debating your own views. Always respond calmly, and avoid engaging in any kind of argument. Remember, this is a learning opportunity, not a court case. 

By maintaining a calm demeanor even in these more frustrating situations, you’ll make it a lot easier for your child to come forward with the truth when they do choose to fess up to bad behavior.

Set Clear Rules and Expectations

Make sure everyone is on the same page about the rules of the house and the expectations they are being held accountable to. For example, if you’re trying to prevent name calling, explain to your children that under no circumstances will this behavior be tolerated. It doesn’t matter if someone calls them a name first or if someone makes them angry in another way. 

If they choose to engage in name calling, they will face the consequences. Reinforce the fact that each person is responsible for their own actions. Remind them that we always have a choice about how we choose to respond to something we don’t like.

Ensure there are Consequences for Bad Behavior

Once your rules and expectations have been made clear, explain to your children what will happen if they choose to break the rules. Aim for short-term consequences, and always tie them to the behavior in question. 

For example, “If you call someone names, you will lose your screen time for the day.” What’s most important is for you to follow through with your chosen consequences. Without real consequences in play, children have no incentive to actually change their behavior.

Introduce Problem Solving Skills

When you tell your child they can’t do something, it’s not always clear to them what they can do instead. To help them take responsibility, teach them crucial problem solving skills. 

Next time they come to you with an excuse, respond with the question “What could you have done differently in that situation?” Calmly working through the acceptable options with your child is a valuable learning experience and is crucial to ensuring they know what steps to take in an uncomfortable situation.

Reward Real Progress

With time, your child will make progress. It may not be easy, but if they are held accountable to real consequences, they will eventually choose to follow the rules more often than not.

To further incentivize good behavior, turn the lesson of accountability into a weekly challenge. Each child can begin the week with 5 points. Every time they attempt to shift the blame or make an excuse for their actions, they’ll lose a point. Use a dry-erase board or simple chart on the fridge to keep track of the score. 

If your child can avoid hitting zero by the end of the week, they can enjoy a small reward. Although this game won’t eliminate failure to take accountability completely, it can remind every member of the family to stay conscious of their responsibility for their own actions.

The key to cultivating a culture of accountability is to be patient and stay consistent. With time, you will reap the rewards of remaining calm and holding firm to your set consequences. After all, what’s a better reward for the hard work of parenting than a child who takes responsibility for their actions?