Instead of teaching our kids that they’re beautiful and smart, because we already know this to be judgmental, we teach them that they can achieve anything they choose to and they’re accountable to themselves and others.
Judgement is a human thing. If we are personally doing it we call it “being discerning”, if others are doing towards us we call it “judgement”, “discrimination”, or the one I use often “being a hater”… always makes me laugh! The point is that it’s something we learn, which means we can affect this in future generations.
Most of us do not intent to teach our children to judge, to like or dislike something without a more objective set of criteria. And it really is a fine line between choosing based on values, morals, history and facts, versus biases we have learned. Most people have the very best intent, yet we all do stupid things… to ourselves and each other.
So my premise is instead of teaching our kids that they are beautiful, smart, and that they can be anything they want (insinuating they have to be something), we instead teach them that they can achieve anything they choose and that they are accountable to themselves and others.
Think about this for a minute, to be something. We teach kids that people are titles. We start it young with gender, race, religion, size, family status… I was a white, skinny, first-born, catholic, sister. And that was at age 2!
So what does this mean?
You can achieve anything you choose! This isn’t being something… this focuses on achievement, and goals. Not titles, positions. At first they will comes to use them interchangeably. I want to achieve financial success! Okay, we say as parents, why? What does that mean for you? I want to achieve running a company! Explain that achievement to me? How do you get there? Why that achievement? Achievements are more like goals, or more specially, the end point of a goal. This gives our kids focus on something that has meaning and factors associated with following a plan to achieve. Versus “I want to be a rocket scientist” which, although certainly has some required steps to success, is vague and not personal.
Why I like achievements is because they touch many other areas of our lives, like health, social support, family. I want to achieve a happy and loving family. If you have this as a goal one of your first focus areas is yourself… are you happy and loving? As you can see, achievements will help your kid focus on how he affects the outcome, in what he does, how he reacts, and all that he is. Let’s say your daughter wants to achieve success as a gymnast. See how this is different than “wanting to be a gymnast”? Wants to be, versus achieving success. One focuses on the title, the other focuses on the outcome. To achieve success as a gymnast her health, both mind and body, are now priorities. She will need to feed herself well, sleep well, exercise, and practice mindfulness. She will achieve success!
That brings us to accountability. Once they have their achievements, they are accountable to themselves for their success. You’ll have the opportunity to show them support, and your accountability to them, which bridges the discussion to their accountability to you… and others. The key thing they will learn is that they own their actions and reactions, their responses and mindfulness. They will see the results of mindfulness within their actions and achievements.
An article I read a few months back discussed how we are teaching our children habits that lead to poor resilience and mental health issues. It got me researching healthy brain and behavior focused ways to equip our kids for life. Neuroscientists and Cognitive Behavioral therapists agree, accountability is a key trait in mental health, stress and change resilience, and overall happiness in life.
Accountability is the personal response and consequence to each and every action of yours. Some people take accountability more personally than others, while other people project accountability onto others and expect those others to manage the response (often referred to as the “victim mentality”). It’s human nature to avoid boring or negative consequences, but it’s also human to make mistakes. Teaching our kids (and ourselves) to be accountable and embrace the consequences of our actions (positive and negative) is the key. I personally do not recommend using the word “reward”… meaning “This is the reward you’ll get when you finish your homework and clean your room.” Instead I encourage the word “consequence”. The consequences we experience will affect us all uniquely, let your child decide if they like it or not, if it’s positive or negative.
Most articles talk about accountability as it relates to the negative and tedious. It’s tough, and hindsight is absolutely without error! You’re reading this… and other articles… which means you have new tools to use. What effort you put in today to teach your charges accountability the better off they will be as adults.
Teach accountability as it relates to every single thing they do, and expect them to hold themselves accountable. It will be easier to do if your reactions aren’t dramatic. Focus on why you think their actions were “bad” and stick to the facts. Ask them why, five times, to get them thinking. Ask them about hindsight. Then ask them how they will take accountability for their actions. Do this with positive outcomes too! We want our kids to think just as much about their successful actions. Why did this action work? What’s the hindsight? This gets them thinking not just about the success, but how they got there (going back to achievements). You want them to use that amazing brain to develop positive and productive habits, since they will be developing habits anyway, make them count.
If they learn one thing it’s that only they can hold themselves accountable. If you focus on consequences being both positive and negative… and leave that determination up to the child, you will:
- Teach them the responsibility they have to themselves and others
- Encourage thought on their actions, all their actions, and how to increase the good while learn from the bad
- Encourage communication with you, and using you as a resource to learn from versus hide from
- Encourage your child to do this outside your scope of control
Practice this yourself. Look internally daily and ask yourself about your accountability. What did your actions produce today? Did you like those results? Dislike them? How did they affect others? What can you learn, and appreciate today? Best way to teach another is to be a visible and approachable example.