Emotional well being, Family life, Foundations for academic success, Literacy, Organisation skills, Parenting

Teaching kids responsibility & holding kids accountable. Why it is so important?

A boy climbing up a climbing wall.

Experienced teachers share things parents should do to set their kids up for success – Part 6 of 10

There are a multitude of factors that determine a child’s academic success. However, there are indications that developing a sense of responsibility and accountability can have a significant impact on the quality of a child’s school performance. Being accountable means being responsible for something and ultimately being answerable for your actions.

So why is it that accountability & responsibility have such a great impact on a child’s school performance? It is all about the behaviour that this elicits. It is a very powerful thing for a child to realize that they can be positively in control of their lives. It’s life-altering for a child to discover that by choosing and directing their behaviour responsibly, they can determine the outcomes of their situation, day, week, month and year.

When a child takes on ownership and responsibility, to some degree life stops happening to them and they start an amazing journey where they discover constructive control, where they are the driver, the navigator. Being responsible and taking ownership doesn’t happen overnight but slowly becomes the norm and a very satisfying part of growing up. This, however, does not happen overnight, nor does it happen of its own accord. Children need to be held accountable in order to learn about and develop a sense of responsibility. Children need to be given opportunities, at appropriate ages & stages, to develop skills and to be responsible and to own their behaviour and decisions, in age-appropriate situations, by the adults around them. In order to do so they need to learn about consequences.

The subtle yet damaging messages created by excuses

If we do not hold children accountable and continually make excuses for them – because we think that doing household chores is too hard for them or that handing in a project on time is too great an expectation of them – then we are sending them the message that we think they are not capable, cannot be trusted, are weaker than their peers and that they need someone else to do it for them, someone who can do it better than they can. They need someone with more power, who is less likely to be challenged, to make excuses on their behalf. Many parents are taking on this role more and more. This in itself is an enormously powerful, yet negative and damaging message, that can strongly impact a child’s view of themselves.

A child who is constantly getting these types of subtle yet negative messages from the adults around them about low expectations, cannot feel good about themselves, cannot feel capable or valued. Taking this path is how we end up with university professors receiving calls from loving mothers trying to explain why their adult child did not hand in an assignment by the due date, even though it was issued 2 months ago and their child is 22 years old. Yes, frighteningly this does happen more often than you would think. Some mothers arrive in person in order to be more persuasive.

Parents need to demonstrate, instruct and encourage

As parents and teachers, we need to demonstrate, instruct, encourage and allow children to be more responsible for their actions and accountable for the outcomes, their successes and their failures. They should own all of it – the good and the bad. This is not being mean to them. In no way do I mean for you to leave a young child out in the cold (emotionally), without support or supervision, to cope on their own. Obviously, teaching responsibility and holding them accountable is a process of imparting skills from a young age, while still being supportive. It involves actively teaching them life skills and then showing trust in them by giving them responsibilities in small manageable increments. This allows parents to gradually increase their child’s responsibilities in a way that allows them to cope, in a way that builds their confidence and pride in their growing independence. What it doesn’t mean is making excuses for children when they could have, and should have, been responsible and accountable.

One thing to note is that to a large degree children learn responsibility and accountability by observing the adults around them. If the adults around them are not taking ownership, not being responsible or not holding themselves personally accountable for their own behaviours and decisions and not being good role-models, then children will NOT learn about either easily. The adults have to lead by example.

Ways to teach life skills and encourage children to take responsibility and be accountable:

  • Pick up their own toys
  • Clean up their own mess (age-appropriate)
  • Get dressed on their own.
  • Be ready on time for school with some supervision.
  • Pack their own bags the night before school.
  • Make their own beds.
  • They should know what is required of them for homework.
  • Complete projects on time.
  • Seek additional help when necessary.
  • Ask questions in class.
  • Monitor their own learning and progress.
  • Do chores at home.
  • Be responsible for taking care of a family pet.
  • Take care of their own belongings like jersey’s, lunch boxes and hats.
  • Be responsible for keeping one area of the house neat, tidy & organized.
  • Outline the consequences and carry them out when necessary – be consistent.
  • Show them what personal accountability looks like by doing it ourselves.
  • Create a safe space for them to admit that they messed up, take it on the chin, offer no excuses and make reparations. Making mistakes and failing is part of life. Learning how to deal with failure is also a key life skill that needs to be learnt.

The bottom line is that whether a child is held accountable or not is up to the parents and their chosen parenting style. If your child is 10 years old and still can’t dress himself/herself, whose fault is it? Who should be held accountable here? Most certainly the parent.

Children who have learned to take ownership and responsibility for themselves tend to…

  • get actively involved at school
  • develop organizational skills
  • be neat and tidy
  • be punctual
  • meet deadlines
  • be good at time management
  • plan ahead
  • have their own academic goals
  • be better behaved
  • push themselves to improve in areas they feel matter the most
  • have confidence in their own ability & capabilities
  • take pride in all that they do
  • have a sense of belonging
  • have better people skills and understand their peers better
  • feel less helplessness in the face of adversity
  • work well in groups
  • know what the consequences are
  • show greater leadership skills
  • care about having a healthy relationship with authority figures because they feel confident
  • go out into the world without failing or falling face down

It is a no brainer to me that this is what a parent would want for their child. Why are we then seeing so much ‘helicopter’ parenting and babying where children are being raised to be irresponsible & unaccountable, where parents arrive with a list of excuses on behalf of the child or even worse do the work themselves and pass it off as if it is the child’s work? This essentially teaches the child to lie but once again teaches the child that he/she is not capable of doing the work.

An important distinction to remember is that responsibility can be shared but accountability cannot.

Respect your children enough to hold them accountable.

Further reading:

How to teach your kids to value personal accountability by Barbara Leech

How to Hold Your Children Accountable for Their Actions by Laci Swann

Teach Your Child Responsibility — 7 Tips to Get Started by James Lehman

Nine Tips for Teaching Kids Responsibility by Alonna Friedman

To explore working with Lianne in Johannesburg (Fourways, Strathavon & Bordeaux South), contact her to find out how she can meet your needs.

Emotional well being, Family life, Foundations for academic success, Literacy, Organisation skills, Parenting, Reading

Arrive on time and be ready to learn.

Clear eyed healthy boy, ready for school and learning, looks into the camera.

Experienced teachers share things parents should do to set their kids up for success – Part 5 of 10

Today we explore how to arrive on time and be ready to learn. In other words, here you will find tips for helping your child be prepared for the day.

Teaching your child the skill of being prepared, and enforcing routines and behaviours that allow them to achieve this, can be the difference between academic success and mediocrity. As a rule, children who do well academically are seldom the ones who arrive at school late, carrying half their project in their arms, sleep deprived with dishevelled hair and dragging a lunch box full of processed food behind them.


Whether we like it or not, routine is the recipe for being on time and having happy kids and parents. I might also add, that it is the answer to happy teachers too and most certainly contributes to academic success. The routines I’m referring to are morning routines, after school routines, homework routines and bed time routines. These routines are the cornerstone of children being able to arrive on time, ready to learn.

Your kids might buck against a new routine to begin with. However, when they know what comes next, what is expected of them, where the boundaries are and that there are no exceptions, they usually settle down and accept it quite quickly. Never give up on establishing childhood routines. It takes time and consistency.

Routines becomes even more important when there is big change around the corner, such as moving house or changing schools. Keep as many and as much of your old routines in place as you possibly can. It will help everyone in your family to transition through the change with greater ease and less disruption.

Routines allow for predictability and smooth the way for arriving on time, being prepared, experiencing less stress and feeling open to learning. Just the fact that having routines can reduce unnecessary stress for children should be enough of a motivation to implement them.

Routines also allow you to move away from constantly supervising your child every step of the way and allowing for more independence and ownership of tasks. This is important for the development of a child’s self-esteem and self-confidence.

As adults it is our job to create, initiate and maintain these routines to ensure that children will arrive on time and be ready to learn.


I can speak for hours about how diet affects a child’s performance, behaviour and readiness to learn. I tend to get on my high horse whenever the topic comes up, so please forgive me for doing so now. But really, with the access to information that we have today, there are no more excuses. Jamie Oliver has made sure of that with his food education drives that have reached out globally.

Firstly, breakfast is not negotiable. Grab a banana and a yoghurt for the kids and let them eat in the car if you have to. If you can, move away from sugary cereals and explain why you are doing so to your child. Educating our little ones about healthy food choices is essential and should start as early as possible.

If you’re packing your child’s lunch box with ANY of the following – chips, sweets, chocolates, biscuits, sugary drinks, McDonalds, left over pizza or two minute noodles – I’m talking to you, and I’m mad. The rest of you can skip to the next subheading.

None of the things I have mentioned above should be anywhere near your child’s lunch box, except for once a week, as a treat.

How can any reasonable person expect teachers to control 15 – 50 kids, in a confined space, who are wired on sugar, colourants, preservatives, MSG and a host of other bad things? If you want to sabotage your child’s ability to succeed at school, this is a very reliable way to do it. Do you have any idea how your angel behaves in a large group setting when they are high on sugar and MSG? Looking at the contents of the lunch box you packed, I’d say clearly not.

If your child is on medication related to behaviour and /or concentration and you are feeding them sugar and junk food, you may as well flush it down the loo. Any good that comes from taking the medicine is being cancelled out by unhealthy lunch box contents. There is a good chance that with a positive change in diet, your child won’t need medication at all to improve his / her concentration. You could save a ton of money and spend it on even healthier food options.

It may also surprise you to know that 100% fruit juice is not a healthy drink for kids and yet it is in every child’s lunch box almost daily. What is wrong with water? Ask any dietician whether it is healthy for kids to drink undiluted fruit juice on a daily basis? The answer is NO, because of the number of calories, the cavities it causes and the amount of sugar involved. This is not the way to ensure that your child will arrive on time and be ready to learn.

In an interview on the e-Tv Sunrise Show, Tabitha Hume (2015), one of Johannesburg’s leading clinical dieticians, recommended these TOP FIVE TIPS TO HEALTHY LUNCH BOXES

1. Provide whole grains and slow releasing carbohydrates. 
Carbohydrates are broken down by the body into glucose, the primary source of fuel for the brain. By including brown and whole wheat breads/rolls/biscuits meals there will be a constant trickle of energy for the brain to function optimally. 
2. Include fresh fruit and vegetables daily
Fruit and veggies provide the vitamins and minerals necessary for children to stay healthy and fight off unwanted germs. Including veggie sticks or fresh fruit is a better option than including a juice box. This is because unprocessed fruit and veggies in their whole form, as well as slow releasing carbohydrates, contain fibre which helps children stay fuller for longer and able to concentrate on the task at hand rather than a grumbling tummy.
3. Clean safe water is an absolute must. 
Research has shown that even a small degree of dehydration can impair cognitive function and concentration.
4. Provide your child with sufficient snacks for the day. 
Your brain needs two fuels to function, oxygen and glucose. Providing enough well compiled snacks will prevent a drop in blood sugar which will leave the child with less energy, more easily frustrated and with a feeling of hunger.
5. Plan carefully.
With today’s fast paced life parents may tend to lead to convenient foods or even giving their children tuck-shop money. These foods are often high in sugar and fat which may impact a child’s weight. Childhood obesity has been proven to impact on disease status in ones later years of life.

As adults it is our job to control our kids diets and to educate them about healthy eating.


Children consistently need an age appropriate amount of sleep to be alert and ready to learn all day. If you have your routines in place, you should be able to get sleep right with your kids 90% of the time. The National Sleep Foundation tells us that most school aged children need 9-11 hours of sleep a night.

Without enough sleep it is impossible for a child to perform at their peak, academically or otherwise. So each day that your child is tired adds up to another day where they have lost out on information due to slow thinking or a lack of concentration.

We also know that not enough sleep can cause irritability, changes in behaviour, sleepiness, difficulty concentrating and moodiness. Not only can a lack of sleep affect academic performance, the ability to concentrate and feelings of motivation, but it can also increase irritability. Irritability can lead to conflict, causing relationship problems and problems with authority.

With today’s busy schedules it is quite difficult for children to catch up on sleep, much like it is for adults. Therefore, disciplined routines are essential so that sleep is not compromised.

As adults it is our job to create healthy sleep routines, which will ensure that our children arrive on time and are ready to learn.

Be organised

Another life skill that children need to be taught from a young age is organisational skills. Kids who have weak organisation skills struggle with handling information in effective ways. Simple tasks, like packing up toys and putting them in the right place, can begin the process of learning to be organised.

Weak organisational skills frequently lead to difficulties in setting and identifying priorities, making and sticking to plans, staying with a task and reaching end goals. This makes it difficult for a child to arrive on time and be ready to learn

Amanda Morin from Understood discusses the 4 ways that children use organisational skills to learn. Below I’ve shared some of what she has to say.

  • Organisation and Following Directions – Children have to focus on what needs to be done and then plan ahead, which requires mental organisation.
  • Organisation and Learning to Read – When matching sounds to symbols, learners need to file this information in a way that makes it easily retrievable. As learners progress through learning to read and striving for fluency the filing system in their head becomes more complicated, requiring more complex organisational skills.
  • Organisation and Literacy Learning – Literacy is a combination of reading, writing and grammar skills. To navigate between these three a child requires a number of organisation strategies.
  • Organisation and Learning Math – Math is a very organised subject. There are many rules and procedures to follow. As math gets more abstract and complex, children with weak organisation skills have trouble coping because they can’t create their own categories for sorting the information.

Children first learn by example and therefore it is important that organised behaviour is modelled in the home. They need to be taught that lego goes in one box and building blocks in another box. Norms like this also teach categorising skills to children, which later leads to the ability to organise information.

Letting children know implicitly that they are expected to be organised, and why, really helps. We also need to praise them when they get it right. If they can understand the reason behind a rule they are more likely to cooperate sooner or more frequently. It needs to be pointed out to them that there is a correlation between organisational skills and success at school. These skills have to be learnt and practiced as we are not born with them.

Set an example for your children. If you’re tidying up, packing your bag for the next day or making tomorrows lunches, make them aware of it and let them do the same alongside you. They can tidy their rooms, pack their school bags neatly, pack any sports bags they require and can even get involved in sorting out lunch boxes. If they forget or leave a bag at home, do not drop it off at school for them. Don’t take the responsibility or the opportunity to learn away from them. We have to realise that sometimes helping is actually hurting and that mistakes are an opportunity to learn. Being left out of the swimming class will ensure that their swimming bag never gets left behind again. The less you do for them, the more they will do for themselves.

Being organised allows children to stay focused on the task at hand and maximises learning time instead of wasting it on chasing down pencil bags and other resources needed at the time.

As adults, it is our job to model good organisational skills and to help our children to develop these skills. It is part of arriving on time and being ready to learn. Since it is impossible for us to always be there to run around after our kids we need to instil skills that allow for greater independence.

Arrive on time

Teaching your kids the value of being punctual is as easy as making sure that you get them to school on time almost every day of their school careers. I say ‘almost every day’ because we are all human and there are going to be those days where life does not cooperate. That’s okay, because kids also need to know that it is alright to be human and fallible.

The problem lies with those parents that are consistently late for school on a regular basis. Strangely enough, these are usually the parents who live within a few roads of the school. They cannot even use traffic as a plausible excuse. When a teacher addresses the problem with these parents, they never seem to get the severity of the problem. Punctuality is just not a priority for them.

The unintended consequence of a child being late for school on a regular basis are enormous and far reaching.

  • Firstly, they’re embarrassed because they stand out for reasons that they have no control over. If this happens daily their embarrassment grows.
  • This leads to daily stress and anxiety.
  • It is very disruptive to the start of the day for the teacher and it becomes incredibly annoying over time. The class register is always incorrect, early morning administration is incomplete and then requires followup, preparation routines are missed or interrupted and it generally starts the day off badly for everyone.
  • It is disruptive to the child’s peers as the morning routine is interrupted. Everyone’s concentration is adversely affected. Other children start to get annoyed over a period of time and they start to show their irritation in mean ways, as children often do.
  • Being late regularly has a social impact on a child because no one wants to be in a group with them. This is mainly because these children are perceived to be unreliable and separate from the rules that govern everyone else.
  • The stress and anxiety they feel prevents the child from focusing and from being ready to learn, causing even greater disruption and another reason why no one wants to work with them.
  • This child remains on the back foot all day, trying to catch up as they haven’t had the preparation time and gentle start to the day that everyone else has had.
  • They sometimes start to be treated as if they don’t belong because the rules that apply to everyone else don’t seem to apply to them. Kids are mean to those who appear to be outsiders. These children sometimes drift between friends and groups of friends, but never seem to settle into steady friendships. They don’t really belong and this is when teachers really start to be concerned.
  • When a child is isolated, does not feel like they belong, feels self-conscious, stressed, anxious, left behind and unprepared, we, as parents and teachers, cannot expect them to be academically successful or working to their full potential.

I believe that many parents, who notoriously get their kids to school late, do not intend for these to be the consequences. In fact, I think they may be completely unaware that there are consequences when you don’t arrive on time and ready to learn. If you are one of those parents, I hope that my article has opened your eyes and given you the motivation to make changes, for the sake of your child.

Further reading

For Part 4 in this series and to read ” Should we be strict about restricting screen time?”, please click here.

To explore working with Lianne in Randburg, Fourways and other areas in Johannesburg, contact her to discuss how she can meet your needs.