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Building Accountability in Kids Requires Focus, Commitment

Cristina Young

Michelle Moskowitz
Sentinel Correspondent

Last week, on an unseasonably warm winter day, Cristina Young, a Greenwich-based licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), held a parenting workshop titled, “Ten Practical Ways to Build Accountability in Your Kids,” held at the Field Club of Greenwich. 

For over 15 years, Young has provided Greenwich residents and neighbors with her expert parenting support, adult therapy, family work and interactive workshops through her psychotherapy practice, Cristina Young Therapy, located at 45 East Putnam Avenue.

The 90-minute workshop, designed for parents of children of all ages, drew a crowd of approximately 30 participants, eagerly awaiting Young’s insight as to how to make their kids accountable in today’s world encumbered with digital distractions, mounting school pressure, and the stressors of becoming a teenager.

Young warmly welcomed participants to snack on light refreshments and cookies, and provided guests with a handout on which to jot down notes from her presentation.

“How should we define accountability?” Young first asked the group. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, accountability means taking responsibility for one’s actions and Young added, making the right choice, whether an authority figure is present or not.

She referenced the mantra emblazoned on the walls throughout the Greenwich public schools, “Character is who you are when no one is watching.”

“Degrees of accountability in kids are a massive predictor of success as an adult, and accountable kids share better connections with others,” said Young referencing a recent study that she felt important to share with the community-at-large. 

“My goal is that each of you can take away at least one or two of these strategies and start implementing them tonight, because evidence shows that if we don’t make any changes within the first 24 hours of learning them, we won’t do any of it,” said Young with her bright, easy-going smile. Her statement drew a chuckle along with a simultaneous seat-shift from the crowd.

“99% of parenting is about the adults, and whatever we draw attention to, grows,” said Young.   

“Kids learn to be accountable because parents highlight it, comment on it, praise it, or note its absence aloud.”

Following are Young’s ten practical ways to build accountability in children.

1.Model accountability every single day.

— ‘Neurons that fire together, wire together.’

— If you say you are going to pick up your kids at 3:00 p.m. or sign up to bring in snack for the class that day, stick to it. By shining a spotlight on your own daily accountability as a parent, it solidifies its importance. 

— Be as explicit with your schedule as you want your kids to be.

2. Delay gratification, earn accountability.

— Build the muscle of gratification in children by teaching them to earn access to what they want.

— Young used the example that if your child wants to bring a friend on a family trip, first outline what he/she must do in order to earn the privilege (such as clean out the closets in one’s room, secure a summer job before the trip, etc.)

3. Teach new skills patiently; then test for accountability and mastery. Run dress rehearsals with your child to build strong self-talk.

— If we want our kids to act responsibly, we need to break things down for them and model the required skills sets while we are right there next to them.

— Young used the example of her 15-year old daughter who wanted to go into New York City alone with a friend. Young conducted a few dry-runs into the city, walking her through every step of the excursion (the process of buying a ticket, showing her which platform to take going in/out of Greenwich, proper train etiquette, and paying attention to strangers, etc.)  By narrating the entire experience and modeling good behavior and proper protocol while they were together, her daughter was more than prepared to not only feel confident about making the trip alone but also to serve as a great role model to her friends.

4. Help kids earn parents’ trust and learn to be reliable by slowly loosening the leash.

— Young used another good example of her daughter wanting to go to the Avenue for lunch alone with a friend and building on that reliability muscle. 

— Young walked her through the detailed process after dining together first with the moms, then sitting at a different table in the restaurant, until ultimately, she was able to dine alone when she knew her daughter was ready and capable to do so by herself.

5. The art of making amends.

— This point highlights the importance for kids to be a stand-up person, especially when they make a mistake or are in the wrong.

— By being able to apologize or provide a peace offering of even a small, kind, gesture, Young says that this helps kids to solidify their accountability muscle even though it’s a little uncomfortable for them to do so.

6. The power is in the pause.

— “Be responsive, not reactive” when encountering a stressful moment with a child.

— “Discipline in private, praise in public.”

— Take a pause, notice the trigger point, and say to your child, “I need a moment,” so that you can choose your response deliberately and make it meaningful when the time is right.

— Modeling to our kids that sometimes we need to take a break in order to access the good stuff in our brains, instead of getting escalated, is a critical lesson.

7. Accountable kids tend to befriend accountable kids.

— By continually shining a light on good behavior in our kids, they will often seek out other like-minded kids who act accordingly and validate them (such as sharing more easily with others and being honest) as well as share similar value sets at home.

8. Focus on skill building instead of extinguishing behavior.

— Don’t shame kids for their bad behavior as it never changes behavior.

— Provide kids with key ways to help soothe themselves in the case of whining, showing frustration, or feeling tired.

— Young used the example of building tolerance in kids, such as when they become a sore loser and over-react from losing a game.

— Provide skills that kids can use, such as deep breathing or petting the dog, and show them that it’s all right to feel badly when you lose, but freaking out isn’t going to help them feel better about it, or generate a good reaction.

— Help them to build the muscle that can tolerate frustration instead of just acting out.

9. Practice the circle back

— Revisiting a situation with a child in a calm, thoughtful manner gives both the parents and the child time to reflect, explain, learn, negotiate, and plan better for next time.

— Each time we allow a teachable moment to slip by without pausing to circle back and make sense of what happened, we miss an opportunity to build accountability.

10. Use specific praise to encourage good behaviors, such as accountability, and ask your child how he/she managed to be accountable.

— Even by praising some semblance of good behavior helps to foster more of it by giving it recognition.

— When we pour specific praise on something, it grows.

While participants dutifully took notes, and offered one another an affable nod of comradeship, several attendees posed individual questions. One mother in particular inquired about the importance of financial accountability.

“That’s a good question, “said Young. “If you tell your kids that they will be getting a certain dollar amount for their allowance, that’s it, and they need to work within that agreed to budget.” 

While there was a plethora of valuable data points discussed, this reporter reverted back to how Young started the workshop, asking her to pinpoint that one point that would forever stick in one’s mind?

“The single most important thing for parents to consider in teaching kids to be accountable is the parent’s own commitment to tracking behaviors for which they want their kids to be accountable,” said Young.

“That means slowing everything else around us long enough to have a real conversation about accountability and why it matters in ‘our’ family.  Talking about it, reflecting on it, thanking each other for moments when we are accountable to one another, wondering aloud together when and why we let each other down – all of these choices allow accountability to be tracked and applauded as it grows,” said Young.

Young says that by setting a phone reminder every day at 7 a.m. is a great way to keep the theme readily at the forefront of our minds.

Visit cmytherapy.com for more information and to learn about upcoming workshops, or call (203) 769-1655.

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