A Model For Teaching Our Kids Accountability

Sometimes our most formative learning experiences come from what we choose to own up to—and if our parents let us make that choice.

alehdats/Dollar Photo Club

It took Dad hundreds of hours to build it, and only a few seconds for me to bust it. I now live in Boston and, out of what is likely sheer guilt, I’ve yet to visit the real-life version of the USS Constitution that my father crafted into a beautiful replica model when I was a kid. I’ve driven by the museum yard in Charlestown harbor many times, and have never ventured onto the ship (despite the pull of the former history major in me). Guilt festering into shame can do that. Even after more than 35 years.

Shame has a way of rusting things in our family lives. We learn as kids about becoming accountable for ourselves when we hurt or displace others. Parents, in how they handle these crossroad moments when kids are to blame, can help them learn to come clean. For kids, parents can model awareness of what’s actually going on, and keep from either descending into the depths of unnecessary shame, or walking away from responsibility altogether.

My Dad spent many evenings sitting at our kitchen table (the one he’d made himself in his woodshop) assembling the hull and decks of his three-foot-long model. No…