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How Can We Teach Personal Responsibility?

As a mother, a teacher, and now as a grandparent, I realize how much children want and need sensible limits. I also appreciate that the way adults set limits and redirect behaviors makes a big difference. I want my grandchildren to recognize that life works on a system of consequences. Even more important, I want the children to learn ways to manage their own behaviors. Consequences and solutions for self-management go together.

The last time I wrote about behavior management, I suggested that consequences that make sense to children produce much better results than punishments such as spanking or yelling. Punishments produce resentment. Consequences should connect to behaviors in ways that seem reasonable to the child. A consequence provides a way for a child to learn and take responsibility. The child realizes, “When I do ____, ____ results.” Matching the consequence to the behavior makes the difference.

However, solution thinking beats both punishment and consequences.

Solution Thinking

Notice the use of solutions instead of punishments or consequences in the following examples.

Solution thinking becomes a teaching opportunity.

Event — Jim blurts out too much in school.

Punishment — Jim writes, “I will not talk, 100 times.”

Solution — Jim keeps a tally of the number of times he talks out. He sets a goal to improve. Each day he does his best to blurt out fewer times than the day before. Jim’s own record demonstrates his progress.

Event — Betty rolls her eyes and sighs loudly.

Punishment — Betty goes to the office.

Solution — Betty writes a description of her behavior and lists three alternative actions. After sharing her list of possible responses, Betty commits to using one or all of her own ideas.

Event — Joe refuses to do his schoolwork.

Punishment — Joe gets kicked off the track team.

Solution — The coach sets up a buddy study system for Joe.

Delayed Consequence

According to the Love and Logic Institute, teachers or parents sometimes want to create a logical consequence but lack the time to think the consequence through carefully. Rather than reacting instantly, give yourself time to think. The following responses from Love and Logic buy some time without making you look weak or ineffective.

  • “Oh no! This is so sad. I’m going to have to do something about your behavior.

  • “I’ll do it later – not now. Try not to worry about it.”

Delay provides you with time to think, consult an expert, or talk to another parent or teacher. Delay also gives the child time to think about possible outcomes. When you tell the child to try and not worry, the statement becomes an anticipated consequence.

Once you tell a child that you will follow through at a later time, you must do so. Giving yourself some think time prevents making a “threat” that you may later regret.

Works Cited

Cline, Foster and J. Fay. “Parenting With Love and Logic.” NAVPRESS. Colorado Springs, CO. 19909, 2006, 2015.

Love and Logic Institute, Inc. 2207 Jackson Street, Golden CO. 800-338-4965. (


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