“They are reaching the age when they need to be accountable for their actions.” She was speaking of children ages 8 to 13 years of age. I was appalled.

You begin teaching your children accountability much younger than that. If they don’t know by the time they are five or six that every action carries within itself the seed of its own reward or punishment, you’ve not been doing your parental job.

I’m not advocating child abuse here, but the constant application of discipline and rules. We do not throw our clothes on the floor. They go on a hanger, in a drawer or in the dirty clothes hamper. Any two-year-old can learn this. You start by doing this with them. And the normal two-year-old will accept your help for a few minutes before you hear the refrain “I can do it myself!”

That’s the ethic you want to tap into. The “I can do it myself” independence ethic.  Just remember to leave enough time for someone who is not yet adept to accomplish the task.

Once children learn that there is a consequence (either positive or negative) to every action and behavior, they generally choose to behave in a way that brings the most positive consequences.

My grandmother used to say “children live either up or down to your expectations.”  If you expect the best and let the child know it, he will generally come through.


Constancy and Consequences

Last week we talked about children living either up or down to our expectations. But if the child doesn’t know what that expectation is, he/she cannot begin to meet it.

In dealing with our children, we need be sure that the rule is the same tomorrow as it is today. One way to take the rule out of whimsy is to make it a “house rule”.

  • In this house, we do not throw toys. We play with them quietly.
  • In this house, we put things away when we have finished using them.
  • In this house, we always wash our hands and face before coming to the table.

This makes the house the rule maker and takes personality out of the issue.

The key is saying “In this house, we…” instead of “I told you…” or “You have to…”. If you have a strong-willed child (and who doesn’t have at least one?), putting things on an “I versus you” basis is like firing the starting gun for a marathon.

Saying “we” has the psychological advantage of bringing the child into partnership with the parent. Not equal partners, I hasten to add. But partners just the same.  “Let’s clean the supper dishes quickly so we have time for….”works better that “bring the plates to the kitchen”. See the difference?  We have an activity with an attached reward (consequence) in the first instance. In the second, we simply have a chore with no consequence (either positive or negative) attached.


I can’t say it often enough. Every action carries within itself the seed of its own reward or punishment. It is the first law of physics: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

The sooner our children learn action and consequence, the better off they’ll be. It is the knowledge, wisdom, and skill that will carry them through the remainder of their lives successfully.


Speak Softly

My grandmother’s house was my home from the time I was about three til I had nearly completed high school. It was a quiet and orderly house.  We did major chores in the morning and arranged the afternoons for social life or reading or crafts. We rose early to get the days started.

At no time was there yelling or profanity in the home.  When thoroughly provoked I did hear her say to my grandfather “Well, ye gods and little fishes, Ollie.” His strongest epithet was “Hell’s bells, mom.”

Her two rules of conduct were:

  • You will not make a scene to disgrace the family, and
  • I don’t care how you feel; you will put on a pretty face and be nice to the company.

Perhaps she didn’t realize it, but she was creating a pattern for successful living.

Children need a structure, a schedule, standard and unchanging expectations. Yes, I know that limits choices.

Until they are old enough to handle the chaos that is this world, limited choices are a good thing.  I didn’t say to my children “what do you want to wear tomorrow?”  Instead I said “do you want to wear the blue dress or the pink one?”  The simplified choice, which one of two, is good practice for youngsters.

Yelling and raised voices generally lead to louder yelling.  My grandmother had an eyebrow. When it dropped, you immediately left what you were doing that was not approved and started the task you had abandoned. If she reprimanded you, it was in a quiet, disappointed tone of voice. It let you know that you had failed her expectations.

I’m a firm believer in children living either up or down to expectations. When I was teaching, I had a set of twins in one of my classes. Ron (made up name) had always gotten better grades than Don (also made up name), but in my class, the opposite was true. Don put in the effort and earned the better grade. That was because I was new in town and didn’t know the prior expectations, so I expected the best of both of them. Don lived up to my expectations; but Ron was in the habit of skating by on reputation and didn’t perform as well.

All this to say, let your children know that you expect the best of them. Courtesy and civility are always in style. Working up to potential is the best course of action. Facing problems quietly and head on gets them handled more effectively.

The job of a good parent is to make himself/herself obsolete in the child’s life as early as possible. You shouldn’t be having to discipline your teenager as you did when he/she was two. And along those same lines, no good parent stands between a child and the consequences of his own actions.

The sooner children learn that every action carries within itself the seed of its own reward or punishment, the better off they are.

In fact, that’s a lesson we all should review from time to time.