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Teaching Children to Take Responsibility for their Actions

Until I became a parent, I didn’t give much thought to the saying, “Parenting is the hardest job you’ll ever love.” However, now that I’ve been a parent for four years I completely agree with that sentiment. Parenting is a tough job…a lot harder than most 9-to-5 jobs, but it’s a job that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

One of the most difficult aspects of parenting, for me, is teaching my 4 yr. old to be responsible and what it means to take responsibility for his actions. I’m not any different than any other parent in the fact that I want the best for my child. In fact, there are many times that I overcompensate because I want my child to be happy. This makes it easy to give him everything he wants and to let certain behaviors “slide,” but I am not doing my son any favors by doing it all for him to protect him from failure.

It’s important that we teach our children to take responsibility for their actions now, when they are young because if we don’t, they’ll grow up to be irresponsible adults who have an attitude of entitlement. So, how do we teach our kids about responsibility and owning their accomplishments and failures?

1.    Let Them Fail. This sounds rather harsh, but failing is actually one of the best teachers out there. When children fail at something, they learn to try harder. Of course, you need to be there to encourage them and help them get back up and try again.

2.    Implement Consequences. I don’t know one parent who enjoys disciplining their child, but in order to teach kids to take responsibility for their action it has to be done. For example, if you are helping your 4 yr. old daughter get dressed and she throws a terrible temper tantrum because she wanted to wear her Easter dress to pre-school instead of what you picked out, you cannot let this behavior go. Once she has calmed down, tell her that she may not like the outfit she is wearing today, but choosing to throw a fit about it is not acceptable. Then take the Easter dress away and tell her that she will have to “earn” it back through good behavior.

Implementing consequences (consistently) teaches children that there will be a response for everything they do (or don’t do). And whether the response is good or bad will be determined by the choices they make.

3.    Back Teachers Up. Too many parents make excuses for their kids nowadays when they misbehave, fail to do their homework or are disrespectful to friends and/or teachers. The problem with this is that you are teaching your child, that no matter what he does, you are always going to have his back – regardless of what his teacher tells you.

I recently had an incident with my son at school (he’s in a 3 yr. old program). The teacher sends home a book every day with a calendar in it and we find one of the following dots on it: green, yellow, blue or red. (Green = good, Yellow = had to be asked several times, Blue = time out and Red = parents had to be called) When I picked up my son he came up to me with his shoulders slumped and told me he got a yellow dot. He knows these are unacceptable at our house and that he would be in trouble.

Well, not only did he get a yellow dot, but the teacher sent home a note telling me that he had not followed the rules all day and that he wouldn’t listen and was very disruptive in class. So, after talking to my son about his behavior at school, I explained that he would have to take a nap and would not be able to watch television or play the iPod that night before bed. In addition, I made a note with dotted letters that said “I’m sorry for not listening yesterday” and made him trace the letters with a crayon. The next morning at school I made him hand the teacher the note and apologize to her for not listening and following the rules at school the day before.

Yes, some parents may think this was a little overboard for a 4 yr. old, but my son is old enough to understand that there are consequences for his actions. And, in this particular case, making him write a note and personally tell the teacher he was sorry had a big effect on him. It forced him to take responsibility for his actions.

Teachers have a hard job enough job, but their job is even harder when parents refuse to back them up regarding their children. Therefore, help your kids learn how to take responsibility for their actions by backing up their teachers when they come to you with a discipline issue. It’s in your child’s best interest. And, the younger your child is when you start this, the quicker he will catch on, making the teenage years a little bit easier!


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