Accountability Part II

“Accountability separates the wishers in life from the action-takers that care enough about their future to account for their daily actions.” John Di Lemme

You will recall that we published part one of our piece on accountability last month. In it I outlined the importance of accountability in our work culture and at home. I suggested that there is a lack of accountability in both places, and to be more successful we need to work on the individual accountability at home while we were looking for the “holy grail” of accountability at work.

This month we will explore ways for us to increase individual accountability, particularly in the home. Accountability is such a foundational piece of life, I hope what we add here will assist you along your journey.

Be well and do your best work,


Accountability in Parenting

Let’s start with accountability at home.  The formation of our ability to be self-responsible and self-accountable starts there. An infant comes equipped with a cry mechanism as their earliest form of communication. They learn very fast that when they cry someone usually shows up to sooth them, feed them, change them, and love them. The infant/toddler begins to add a variation of crying to ‘get what they want.’ And so it goes. If crying, whining, tantrums get them what they want, they will continue that behavior until they no longer get what they want.

What do we do? It depends on what we know, and our courage to help the child learn a different way of responding. Often, our reactions are compounded by fatigue. Because we are tired, we may end up bartering, placating, negotiating, or threatening in order to get the behavior to stop. My guess is that we have all heard a parent tell a misbehaving child in the grocery store, “Johnny, if you will stop (crying, screaming, knocking things off the shelves, etc.) and be good I will buy you a piece of candy when we get ready to leave.” I can admit to using a similar tactic until I learned what I was teaching my child – I was teaching her that her less desirable behavior would be rewarded (i.e., attention, something to eat, some other ‘perk’).  That dynamic can continue for a very long time, and much of it depends on the parental response.

Jessica Lahey, author of The Gift of Failure, writes, “Parental aid is particularly toxic when it comes to the child’s relationship with his or her school.” “Teaching has become a push and pull between opposing forces in which parents want teachers to educate their children with increasing rigor, but reject those rigorous lessons as ‘too hard’ or ‘too frustrating’ for their children to endure.” Parents would argue with Lahey (a former middle school teacher) over grades, while students seemed increasingly unable to take on any kind of challenge.

People will reflect the tendencies their environment encourages. This will be explored more as part of the solutions when we switch to looking at work culture in Part III. The environment is particularly important for children in their learning and loving process. The happiest children understand the ‘rhythm’ to the home. This includes  consistency in meal times, bed times, discipline, love and expectations. The more consistent the parents are in creating this environment the more the child is likely to exhibit greater security with less chaos and drama.

When we ask our young children to do something, do we ensure that they do? Sometimes? Rarely? The ‘pattern’ of accountability is about consistency and consequences. Are you a parent/person who tends to ‘tell’ your child/others the answer, or do you hang back and encourage your child/others to be independent and find their own answers?

Part of the path of learning to be responsible is learning to be independent. Part of being independent is figuring things out for ourselves. If someone is always helping, or stepping in to do ‘for us,’ we can grow up to be adults who look to others to solve things in their lives. I’m not saying that we don’t ‘do for’ from time to time to help someone out. I am saying that a pattern of ‘doing for’ can get in the way of allowing our children to become confident and independent because they haven’t struggled to solve their problems.

Psychologist Wendy Grolnick invited mothers and children to play together, and captured their play sessions on video. Grolnick made note of which mothers helped their kids figure out what to do while playing, and which mothers let their kids figure things out for themselves.

Later, Grolnick put each of the kids alone in a room with a challenging task to perform. The children with helpful mothers who advised and directed them during play simply gave up when they grew frustrated with the task. But the children with mothers who held back, encouraging them to be independent, were able to stick with the task despite their frustration.

My simplest definition of responsible is being in charge of someone or something.  I think of accountability as being required to explain actions or decisions.  While they are often used synonymously, there is a subtle but important difference. If I am responsible for taking out the trash, but am not accountable (held to explain why I didn’t do it), the responsibility may fall to a lesser priority for me than something I will be called to account for my actions/non-actions. Therefore, it is critical that our children not only learn to be responsible, but accountable as well.

Depending on the child’s age, you may have to start slow, understanding that they are just learning. That may include making it a game. What is occurring is that they are learning that when you ask them to do something, that is an expectation you set. Over time, you teach them what is expected, and you allow them the space to perform the task – which might include a timeline for completion. They must also learn the consequence when they fail to meet the expectation. My experience and observation is that we either fail with our expectations being appropriate, or we fail to hold the child accountable. “They’re just a child (2, or 3, or 4 years of age). It’s okay they didn’t do what was asked.” Remember, no matter how young the child is, they are learning every day. They learn very quickly when they need to ‘get going’ with doing something, and how much time they have before they really have to get going. (For a really good resource on understanding expectations and consequences look up Parenting with Love and Logic, by Foster Cline and Jay Fay.) The whole idea behind Love and Logic is to help create love and create logical consequences (not punishment) for noncompliance.

If you are serious about wanting to raise independent, happy children, you will have to scrutinize that behavior that is not helping your child to learn responsibility and accountability. In my experience with parenting and leadership, the issues that I see around me are often imbedded in me – change the behavior, change the response.

Why is it so hard not to jump in and help children even when we know they’re better off figuring things out for themselves? Simple, we’re human and rescuing someone we love feels good. Whereas not helping out can make people feel like they’re bad parents.

Also, because our ‘doing for’ is about our convenience, not what’s best for the child. I would suggest you pause, take that statement in, and understand that often, the very behavior we think is ‘helping’ the most, may be selfish and reflect our needs at the time, not our children’s. It was that statement about ‘my convenience’ that indicted me some 30 years ago.

Before we end Part II I want to share some advice from Katherine Reynolds Lewis, author of The Good News About Bad Behaviorwho spent five years researching how kids mess up, and how to help them learn to handle those failures, which ultimately will set them up for success. Here’s her advice:

1. Stop worrying that your child’s failure reflects badly on you.

If your child messes up on a test or misbehaves around their teachers or peers or grandparents, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent, Lewis says. “We need to let them be imperfect and stop feeling that it’s a negative reflection on us.” Expecting our children to always behave perfectly to everyone is denying them the right to be human, with human frailties. If we do that, “We’re teaching our kids to shove down their emotions,” she says.

2. Don’t act like everything depends on academic or sports achievements.

We live in a very competitive world, so it’s easy for parents to get wrapped up in the question of how their children can get the best grades, best learn a new language or skill, run fastest or have the greatest athletic successes. It’s normal to want your child to achieve great things, but it’s easy to get carried away.

“Many of us have this dream of a child prodigy,” Lewis says. “But we shouldn’t make them feel their work is their only important achievement, or that our love is dependent on how well they perform.”

3. Encourage them to try things they may fail at.

Childhood should be a time for experimentation, so it’s smart to encourage kids to try things they may not be naturally good at. “There’s this idea that you should specialize early, that if you’re not playing a sport at age eight, you’ll never make the varsity team,” Lewis says. “Make it OK if they don’t make the team–or if they decide to quit.”

4. Let them fall down.

Lewis means that literally. “The classic parenting comment when your kids play on the playground is, ‘Be careful!'” she notes. “That’s not helpful, it just transmits a vague sense of worry and fear.” Here’s a disturbing statistic Lewis quotes: 32 percent of children will have an anxiety diagnosis by the time they’re 18. “You can help them get over that fear by letting them take lots and lots of small risks and having them learn that they can survive a scratch.”

5. Ask them about their failures.

Lewis suggests making it a dinnertime tradition to instill the idea that risk-taking and failure are a normal part of your children’s development. “Ask: ‘What kind of risks did you take today? How did you fail? What did you learn from it?'”

6. Don’t jump in to solve problems too quickly.

It can take some self-discipline to say, “What are you forgetting this morning? Have you looked at your list?” as your child heads for the door, rather than “Here–you forgot your lunch.” But every time you let a child make a mistake and then find his or her own solution, the more you are setting that child up for success down the road, Lewis says.

The same applies to more serious failures, such as getting a D. A grade like that obviously means something needs to change, but there’s a difference between correcting a problem and treating it like a crisis, Lewis says.

“If we take it on as our problem, they’ll never take it on as theirs,” she continues. “We can save them from getting a D by nagging them to do their homework all the time until they graduate, but then they won’t have taken ownership of it.”

Don’t worry that if you don’t treat a bad grade like it’s the end of the world, your child won’t care about it, she adds. “They’re already embarrassed by their teachers’ disappointment,” Lewis says. “Plus, their peers all know about it, because kids always share their grades. No one wants to get a D.”

7. Acknowledge your own failures.

One powerful way to teach kids how to deal with failure is to model that behavior yourself. So if you lose your temper, or forget to sign a school form or pick up something that they needed, acknowledge that you made a mistake, apologize, and do what you can to make amends, Lewis advises. “So often we want kids to be responsible for their actions when we’re not willing to do that ourselves,” she says.

8. Think 20 years in the future.

“Kids develop at the pace they develop and there’s only so much we can do to goose it along,” Lewis says. “So accept that it’s a very long path and try to parent from a place that’s 20 years from now.” She asks, in 20 years, will it matter more that your child got an A on a test, or learned the value of hard work? “When you’re parenting with that very long-term horizon, you’re going to make the right choices.”

In Part III we will wrap up this series by looking at strategies to increase responsibility and accountability in the workplace as part of building a culture of accountability. Teaching greater self-responsibility and accountability helps to build more responsible and accountable children and adults.

To your journey and living out the best version of you…


How To Create A Culture of Accountability In Your Home

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