Where thoughtful parenting replaces impulsive parenting

Cooperation Counts

  • About Accountability

    accountability sign

    Image Credit: United Workers

    By Jean Hamburg, LICSW

    Accountability is a fact of life, but in parenting land the concept turns out to be a complicated one. Just for starters, there is the age factor.
    Accountability for a 2 year old is very different than for a 17 year old, and that includes all of the ages in between.

    Many parents believe that kids need to ‘learn their lesson’. In order to make sure that deed gets done some of the usual go-to methods might include punishments, lectures about right and wrong, explaining (often multiple times), eliciting apologies, and repeating the offense along with an acceptable do-over explanation to top the list.

    Others believe exactly the opposite-that the way children learn to behave well—to make the right choices- is to help them along by gentle reminders, encouragement to do the right thing, and to cheer them on.

    There, of course, is no one correct way, but it is important to be ever aware of how adults get messages across in ways that will be respectful to children of every age.

    Scene 1

    Justin, age 4 has lied. There is no getting around the fact that he DID hide his green beans under the table, but to hear his version he had nothing to do with those green things under there. Never mind there were 4 witnesses. Justin sticks to his story.

    Justin’s parents may find it tempting to use the “Don’t lie to me young man” approach, and threaten to leave him behind when they go to the pool if he doesn’t tell the truth-now!

    Another approach (among many) could be to let it go for now, and at another time when everyone is comfortable use the “I’m so curious. What was that all about when you decided to say that you didn’t put the green beans under the table. I’m thinking you didn’t want to eat them. What do you think?” Next could come listening :”Oh, I see. Now I get it. You REALLY didn’t want to eat them. Well, let’s see what you decide next time. Someday you might like to give it a try. We’ll see.”

    Scene 2

    Mary, age 12, has gone to the mall with her best friend even though her parents specifically told her that she could enjoy being with her friend, but under no circumstance did she have permission to go to the Mall. But Mary did go, and not only that, she told her friend’s mother that it was perfectly fine for her to do so.

    Mary’s parents could ground her ‘forever’, or they could choose to wait until everyone was calm, and notice the issue, and ask Mary to tell them about her decision to go. Respectful listening can keep everyone emotionally connected and more in the mood to problem-solve reasonably- minus punishing, and a consequence is very different from a punishment. If the consequence for this poor choice is not done in anger, and when it is over it is over, that heads for accountability.

    These scenes and many like them strike terror in the heart of well meaning parents who just want their kids to tell the truth, and do what they are told.

    Deciding how to handle any kid-issue is challenging when adult emotions are added to the situation but no matter what direction accountability takes, calm adults and kids have a better chance at a healthier resolution. Waiting for everyone to be settled is the way to go even though it is tempting to ‘take care of the problem right now’. We tell the kids to ‘stop and think’, and it turns out that’s pretty good advice. Settling an issue with kindness and compassion while staying emotionally connected to our children of any age has a chance for a better outcome. Lying about green beans and trying to get away with something is important, but in the long run problem-solving in peaceful, kind ways is what really matters.

    Contact Jean for consultation options at: jeanhamburg@comcast.net __1-877-813-0004

    Cooperation Counts (sm) is a service of Jean Hamburg, LICSW

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