How to Create a Culture of Accountability in Your Home

by Megan Devine, LCPC
How to Create a Culture of Accountability in Your Home

The father's voice on the other end of the Parental Support Line sounded exhausted and overwhelmed when he said, "I know you told me that I have to hold my child accountable, but what exactly does that mean?”

It’s an excellent question, and one that we receive often on the Support Line. You’ve probably noticed that we talk a lot about “accountability” in Empowering Parents, as well. But have you ever wondered what it really means to hold your child accountable?

It's never too early—and it's never too late—to start a Culture of Accountability in your home.

I think it’s often helpful for parents to break big concepts down into bite-sized pieces in order to fully understand them. The word “accountable” itself means responsible, or taking responsibility for one’s actions. So when we’re talking about our kids, the question becomes, how will you make sure your child accounts for his or her actions? In other words, how will your child take responsibility for their behavior after the fact? And how can we help them think about that responsibility before they behave inappropriately?

Remember, we want to promote a system of responsibility and accountability for actions in our home. James Lehman calls it a “Culture of Accountability,”and it means that each member of the family is responsible for their own actions and behaviors, each person is responsible for following rules and expectations, and each is responsible for how they respond to stressful or frustrating situations. The simple truth is that most kids, and even some grown-ups, don’t take responsibility for their actions. Without accountability in place, kids blame others for their actions, refuse to follow rules they find unfair, and find ways to justify their behavior. For example, if your child breaks the house rules by calling his siblings rude names or being physically aggressive with them, he may be in the habit of blaming his brother or sister for his verbal abuse. You’ll hear things like “She wouldn’t get off the computer and I wanted to use it!” or “He wouldn’t move, so I pushed him.”

Understand this: when you have created a Culture of Accountability in your home, your child will know that no matter who started it or what happened first, everyone is responsible for their own behavior, and everyone has to follow the rules. Just because he was using the computer doesn’t mean he can call his sister foul names because blaming someone else doesn’t change the rules. As James says, “there is no excuse for abuse, period.”

Giving consequences and sticking to them is another important piece of the accountability puzzle: your child should know that if he chooses to break the rules, there will be a consequence for that choice. The bottom line is that no one in the family should get away with changing the rules to fit their needs or feelings.

Let me use an example from the work world. Let’s say it’s your job to make sure that a shipment of light bulbs arrives safely at their destination, but you were preoccupied and did not check the shipping boxes, and many of the light bulbs arrived damaged and broken. Your boss will likely hold you accountable for the breakage. You may not like it, but it is your job to meet those expectations—and if you don’t meet them, you won’t get paid. You can’t blame it on someone else, as it was your responsibility to check the boxes. Since your job’s Culture of Accountability says that you’re in charge of the light bulbs, you understand that you need to take responsibility for what happened. You may have to discuss what went wrong, and explain how you will make sure to do it differently next time—and you will probably have to work a little longer that day to fix the problem. That’s the heart of what it means to be responsible.

This is similar to what James is talking about when he says you need to hold your children accountable. You have rules and expectations for your child, and they are responsible for following those rules. If they don’t follow them, they do not get “paid” with the privileges and rewards they value. Again, blaming others or acting inappropriately does not relieve them of their responsibility to meet the expectations of the family.

You might be thinking “I know my child is responsible for meeting our expectations and following our rules, but how do I hold him accountable when he doesn’t want to be?” Remember, as James often says, you can’t get your child to want to do something he doesn’t want to do. You can, however, use effective parenting strategies in combination with rewards and consequences to get hold child accountable.

How to Be Clear about Expectations and Set Clear Limits
If you have a rule in your home of no name calling, here’s how you can set clear expectations and limits around it. Let your child know the following: “In this house, we don’t call people names. It doesn’t matter if someone makes you really angry, or if they started it. Each person is responsible for following the rules. If you call someone else names—remember, it doesn’t matter who started it—you will lose some of your game time today.”

Kids will often try to shift the focus to someone else. If this happens, you can say, “It sounds like you’re blaming your brother for the fact that you called him names.” Be sure all members of the family know that putting the blame on someone else will no longer be acceptable. In a Culture of Accountability, each person is responsible for their own actions, and for following the rules, no matter what someone else does. Be clear about the rules, and what each person can expect to see happen if they choose not to follow those rules.

Talk to Your Child and Help Them Figure out How They Will Follow the Rules
It isn’t enough to simply say “don’t do that;” kids often need to know what they can do, not just what they can’t do. Help them problem solve. Ask your acting-out child, “What can you do to help meet our rules and expectations?” Remember, it doesn’t matter if they think the expectations are fair or not; they simply need to take responsibility for meeting them. Remind your child: “It’s your responsibility to control your temper. Just because your brother is bothering you does not mean you can push him. If your brother is annoying you, and you’re tempted to call him names, what can you do instead?” You might have your child write down a list of the things they can do to help themselves follow the rules when they are tempted to break them.

Use Cueing
Once your children have come up with ways they will help themselves follow the rules, you can use what James calls “cueing” – giving a reminder of what is expected. When you hear your child start to get annoyed, you might say, “Remember what we’ve been talking about. You are responsible for following the rules. Why don’t you go check your list of things that you’re going to do when you’re having trouble following the rules?” To help create that Culture of Accountability for everyone, you might also consider posting the family rules in a public area in your home, like the refrigerator door.

Use Consequences to Hold Your Child Accountable
Once you have clarified the rules and helped your child come up with some ideas on how he might behave, let him know what he can expect to see happen if he still chooses to break the rules. Remember, tie the consequences to your child’s behavior, and keep them short-term. For example, let your child know, “If you choose to call your brother names, you will lose access to your electronics until you can speak appropriately for two hours.” Be sure to follow through with the consequences you set; remember, without clear consequences, there is no real incentive for your child to become accountable.

The good news is that creating a Culture of Accountability is a very reachable goal for parents. In fact, effective parenting helps your child learn to be accountable—to both accept responsibility for meeting the expectations of your family, and to develop the skills they need to meet those expectations. And when all the members of your family start becoming accountable to each other, your kids will have a clear understanding of the rules and will be much more motivated to uphold them. You will even see your kids trying to follow the rules when they don’t want to do so, because they will know that they will be held responsible for their choices, no matter how they feel or what excuses they give you.

Realize that when you first try to put the Culture of Accountability into place in your home, your kids may fail to meet their responsibilities, even with clear limits and good problem solving techniques. It will take practice to help them understand that they will be held accountable for their actions. But as James says, “parents are the solution, not the problem.” You can teach your children the skills they need to take responsibility in their lives now, and for their future. With consistency and practice, your kids will learn that they are responsible for their actions and behaviors. It’s never too early—and it’s never too late—to start a Culture of Accountability in your home.


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Megan Devine is a licensed clinical therapist, a former Parental Support Line Advisor, a speaker, and writer. She is also the bonus-parent to a successfully launched young man. You can find more of her work at, where she advocates for new ways to live with grief.


Excellent recommendation. Challenge for parents is continuity and sustainability!

Comment By : Kathleen

This is truly something that we need in todays society where there is a tremendous lack of accountability. How do you teach this when one parent has a denial of responsibility and has never been taught accountability or how to embrace responsibility. I feel as if I am constantly in a whirlwind talking to the kids about integrity, responsibility and accountability but there is no follow through with the other parent.

Comment By : frustrated mom in FL

Great clarification on what accountability is and how we can set up a culture of it in our homes. I learned things from this article although I thought I knew what accountability was and how to enforce it. It also reminded me that my son may not understand the things I'm asking of him and could benefit from clarification from me as well.

Comment By : Lisa

I am in the same boat as "frustrated mom in FL". My husband puts the kids down and calls them name all the time. How can I get my two boys to change the name calling behavior if they receive it from dad all the time.

Comment By : Frustrated Mom in MD

Dear Frustrated Moms in FL and MD: We hear from a lot of parents who have a different parenting style than their partner or other parent. It is difficult to teach your child to follow one set of rules when he sees those rules up for debate within your own family. Rather than argue about whose style is right and whose is wrong, you might see if you can find a place of agreement. You may be surprised to find that you do actually have places of agreement, for example: both of you may agree that the kids should not take or destroy other peoples' things. That means there would be a rule in your home that no one takes or destroys something that belongs to another. Decide together what the consequences will be if the kids break that rule. If one of you feels you cannot follow through with the consequences, maybe you can agree to at least not "undo" the consequences the other parent enforces, and agree to not argue about your differences in front of the kids. As far as feeling like you are constantly talking about these issues, remember that kids' brains function far more concretely than adult brains. So, while having family discussions about abstract terms like responsibility and integrity are important, those discussions rarely result in concrete changes in behavior -- the kids may understand it while you're talking, but fail to put the principles into action! You are far more likely to see changes when you focus on a couple of behaviors at a time, working with your kids to solve their problems in more appropriate ways. For more on parenting differences, you might check out: Differences in Parenting? How Your Child May Be Using it Against You

Comment By : Megan Devine, Parental Support Line Advisor

This article is right on target and provides practical ways; althought not easy, for creating a culture of accountability at home. Excellent reccomendations!

Comment By : Frustrated Mom in MD

All of these recommendations sound wonderful, but words like, "you will lose the use of ----- for ------ hours" are meaningless to a 17 year old. Am I big enough to take ---- from my son? No, I'm not. And is he just going to sit and watch me take his -----. Of course not! He will not LET me take his ----. How do you address that?!?!

Comment By : marilu123

marilu123 - Check out these articles for more ideas (and make sure to read the comments). Hope this helps.

Comment By : girlcandler

Gosh, where do I start. I have a beautiful soon to be 11 year old daughter, who is a straight A student (Principal's list and General Excellence) and a great athlete. She is also such a great caretaker of young children (very motherly and caring). However, ever since first grade she had gotten into trouble in school with talking when she's not supposed to, not listening to directions, being bossy, not minding her business, looking for attention. Various teachers teachers have stated that they just don't want to see her have "bigger" issues with friendships, etc. when she is older. Would 11 years old constitute being older??? She is in fifth grade now and has a teacher who I must say does not help the situations since many of the students say she is very moody and dramatic. There are also some girls in her class that are very catty and moody and instigative (which may describe many 11 yr. old girls). However, this is about my daughter so I will stay with that. She can be so sweet when she wants to be, but she on a regular basis (at home) she does not listen to instructions and I have to repeat myself many times, when around her friends she tries to get her way, she does not mind her business, she can be bossy. So if she is doing this at home, I know she is doing this in school. I am so frustrated because I just don't know what to do anymore. She is distruptive in school and gets into trouble a lot with the teacher. I wish I could be a fly on the wall to see exactly how she is behaving in class on a daily basis, but I only know what I deal with at home. I am constantly correcting her, yelling at her (after losing my patience), telling her she needs to mind her own business and not worry about what other people are doing. I'm scared that I will not be able to change her ways and all the beauty in her (loving and caring way, academic achievement, athletic achievement) will be overshadowed by her constant negative traits when she is in school and at home. I love her so much. HELP ME PLEASE!!!!

Comment By : Mom at her wits end in NY

Dear James, I am in the exact same situation as Mom at her wits end in NY. Please Please help with some suggestions on how we can help our girls excel socially. I am very happy to see my daughter excel academically but it breaks my heart to think that she may not have friends or anybody that would want to be around her because of her bossy and strong willed demeanor. Please help. She behaves exactly the same way as mentioned in the Mom at her wits end in NY article the only difference is that my daughter is 9 instead of 11 everything else is the same. Please let us know what we can do to help our girls be more considerate and polite so that they can excel socially as well. in desperate need of some advice Mom at wits end in PA

Comment By : Mom at wits end in PA

* Dear ‘Mom at her wits end in NY’ and ‘Mom at wits end in PA’: The best place to start when you have ongoing behavior concerns that get in the way of a child functioning successfully is to have a thorough evaluation. In that way you will be able to direct your attention to the specific skills your child needs to improve. For example, it sounds like both girls struggle with inattention and impulsivity—but this is something to double check with your pediatrician or other professional. Sometimes medication is necessary if impulsive behavior—dominating play, interrupting, jumping from one thing to the next—keeps other kids away and creates problems at school. Next, work to improve your relationship with your child. Kids who have lots of experience talking to and doing things with their parents are better prepared to develop friendships. If it seems like you’re always correcting them, step back and make changes here. James Lehman tells us that, “It really is important to show your child that you hold him in high regard. A person doesn’t change if they think you think they’re worthless.” Spend time interacting with your child in positive ways so your child hears many more positive remarks than criticisms. You may need to let some behavior concerns go during this time so you’re not directing or criticizing your child. When you are helping your child with social skills, be very specific. For example, try having the family play a board game together. Tell your child that, “We’re going to be practicing waiting for our turn and not moving other’s player’s pieces.” Set-up one on one play dates with other kids with similar interests and personalities. Volunteer at your child’s school to meet other parents and observe kids who might be good potential friends for your child. Also, help your child learn how to relax. Knowing how to make your body do this because you practice doing this will make this coping skill more readily available when your child needs to be patient or calm down.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

I have a young daughter the age of 14. Her father and I divorced when she was 2 going on 3. She has a wonderful stepfather in her life and he loves and protects her as his own. She is in 8th grade going into 9th and we have the no boy friend rule. At home she is the innocent sweet little girl, but i've come to discover she is boy crazy at school. I have talked to her about boys and what is expected of her...but i feel i have no control over what she does at school. Her grades went down and we are considering private school. I feel I am at the end of my rope with little room for mistakes. I dont know what to do- my husband does not tolerate the grade situation. I have not told him the boy crazy situation i am trying to deal with on my own to keep the peace at home- but i feel like i am being pulled in all directions. Her dad is very active in her life, but he is the pleasing parent anything she says goes and he does not set boundaries and makes me and my husband look like the bad guys. Idont know how to help her. I would love your input on these issues and how I can be a better parent to her. Her future depends on this and I dont want to make any mistakes trying to figure things out- then come to realize its too late.

Comment By : Chloe

* Chloe: It sounds like you are worried that your daughter’s interest in boys will get out of hand and cause some serious problems as she gets older. You are also concerned that you are not doing enough to prevent that. It’s no secret that your daughter is at an age where she and her friends are going to be more and more interested in the opposite sex. That said, keep these things in mind: 1) being “boy crazy” does not mean that she is heading toward a future of delinquency or promiscuity and 2) her grades may have declined because she is focused more on her social life in general—boys don’t necessarily have anything to do with it. A teen’s world revolves around their friends and social events which can be very distracting. You are doing a great job of communicating your values and your expectations to your daughter, and you are right that you can’t control what she does outside of the home. The only thing you could improve right now is talking to her about how she might handle different situations that might come up with boys to help her develop some skills in that area. You can bet she is going to want to talk to boys on the phone or see boys outside of school at some point in the future so just think about what limits you might have—parental supervision or a phone curfew for example. You are doing a fine job, and worrying about the future is not likely to be helpful to you. Take one day at a time. I am including an article James wrote about “toxic friends” as a guide for how to handle relationships you don’t really want your child to have. We wish you luck as you continue to work through your daughter’s teen years. Take care.
Does Your Child Have "Toxic" Friends? 6 Ways to Deal with the Wrong Crowd

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

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