Teaching Kids Accountability

The law of cause and effect is a natural law. We see it all around us, all the time. If I drop a rock, the effect is, it falls. If it rains more than usual, more vegetation and weeds grow more. Or maybe I create the cause of acting belligerent, critical and mean. Then the effect is that people don’t want to be around me and I lose friends. Life itself is great at teaching kids accountability. But many parents and elders insulate children from the effects of their actions.

We love the children in our lives and we want to protect them. But unfortunately, many people in parental roles take it too far. And they continue to do so after kids (and even young adults) are old enough to learn cause and effect.

Teaching kids accountability may be one of the most important things we can instill. If a person has a strong sense of the law of cause and effect, they can use it to their benefit. They can work toward the outcomes they want and create successes in life.

The Negative Consequences of Not Teaching Kids Accountability

On the other hand, if kids do not learn the correlation between cause and effect, it can devastate their adult lives. They can become depressed when things don’t go as they want and they don’t realize that they have power in their lives. They can create problems for themselves and other people as they bumble from one mistake to another risky gamble. Convicts become repeat offenders often because they never learned that there are consequences to every action.

Infants are too young to learn much about consequences. But toddlers can and should learn the basics of cause and effect, as long as the effect is not long-term damage. And as they grow, teaching kids accountability is the responsibility of their parents.

As parents and elders, we should constantly be on the lookout for natural consequences that can help our children learn. We should not fix their day if they did something to mess it up. But we can give them guidance, if they are open to it. We should not try to keep them in a safe, happy bubble of a happy life. They need to learn to create their own happiness and safety.

Jane’s Daughter and Consequences for Actions

For example, it is Jane’s daughter’s job to pick up the dog poop. But the daughter doesn’t do it. Jane should not pick up the dog poop. That will only shield her daughter from natural consequences. If mom does that type of thing over and over, it can cause long-term problems for her daughter. That’s the kind of helping that is actually hindering children instead of teaching kids accountability.  

But maybe, instead, Jane can harness natural consequences. For example, if her younger brother steps in it, then the daughter not only needs to clean the dog poop from the yard, but she also has to clean younger brother’s shoe. Or maybe nobody steps in it, but there is a lot of poop in the yard at the end of the week. Then Jane needs to expand on the natural consequences. Maybe her daughter has to stay home and pick up all of the dog poop, instead of going to the mall with her friends on Saturday.

consequences are important for teaching kids accountability

In his Active Parenting course, Dr. Michael H. Popkin stresses the importance of, “You have freedom of choice, but never freedom from consequences.” Not only does he teach parents to say this to their kids, he also wants them to show it. The more kids experience the consequences of their action, or inaction, the wiser they will be in the natural law of cause and effect.

Kids can learn responsibility, especially when parents teach it. Youngsters need to experience consequences to their actions. And particularly, natural consequences are huge tools for learning. In karate classes, we often have a lot of opportunities for teaching accountability. If children and even young adults learn that they are responsible for their own actions, this life skill will be an important tool in their success-and-happiness-in-the-long-run kit.

-Jenifer Tull-Gauger

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