How to Hold Children Accountable

By Greg Baer M.D.

June 14, 2024

Children understand more than we think, and we need to hold them accountable for what they know. 

As a group, kids would not be characterized as careful. They run faster than they’re able, throw things without regard for where they might land, and speak words without consideration of their effect. 

Mostly it’s just inexperience and exuberance, but with every passing day, they acquire more knowledge, become more teachable, and need more accountability.

We have to hold children accountable (an external reporting to someone in authority), or they will not learn to be responsible (an internal choice to personally own a choice or task).

How to Hold Children Accountable

Ella, age four, wrote in permanent pink marker all over the favorite book of her brother, age seven. Mom tried to talk to Ella about how she had been unloving and not responsible, but, in Mom’s words, “She didn’t seem to understand anything I was saying.” 

Testing Their Accountability

I began laughing. “Does she hate it when other people take her things or break them?”


“Then she understands ownership and responsibility, at least in the form of not breaking things. When you give her a chore to do, and she hasn’t done it, what does she do when you find her and call her name?” 

“Looks guilty and looks down at the floor.” 

“So she understands right and wrong, along with responsibility. She just played you, kid. She did the famous ‘instantly stupid’ act that kids use when they are avoiding responsibility by acting like they don’t understand you.” 

Intervene to Teach Accountability

“So what can I do?”

“Sit her down in a room with just you and her, not with her brother there. Show her the book she wrote on, and say, ‘You wrote on your brother’s book, and you know that was wrong. You broke it, so now I have to take something of yours away, so you’ll remember not to do this again.’ 

Then you take one of her favorite toys and explain that it will be gone now. You take it out of the room to a place where she won’t find it. Then you return, hug her, and say, ‘You can’t write on other people’s things. You can’t break their things either.’"

Success in Teaching Accountability

Mom did exactly as I had recommended and called: “I can hardly believe it, but she got it. After I took her toy, she burst into tears and said, ‘Can I say good-bye to my bunny (her toy)?’ And then she said she knew it wasn’t loving to write on her brother’s book. Later she talked to her brother—on her own—and told him she was wrong and should have written on paper instead.”

When it suits them, children often act like they don’t understand a principle. Before you fall for that trick, assess their overall knowledge. They understand more than we think, and we need to hold them accountable for what they know.

It will greatly bless their lives.

You can do this, so let's get started.

Click the button below—it’s free—to begin transforming your life as a Ridiculously Effective Parent.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

About the author 

Greg Baer, M.D.

I am the founder of The Real Love® Company, Inc, a non-profit organization. Following the sale of my successful ophthalmology practice I have dedicated the past 25 years to teaching people a remarkable process that replaces all of life's "crazy" with peace, confidence and meaning in various aspects of their personal lives, including parenting, marriages, the workplace and more.

Subscribe to our newsletter now!