Steps of Responsibility

I recently attended a workshop by Dr. Ben Furman a psychiatrist and psychotherapist from Finland who came to share some wisdom regarding their very successful solution focused approach with children and adolescents practiced in their country. Finland’s education system is consistently ranked best in the world and part of their success is focusing on the skills kids and adolescents need to learn instead of focusing on “problems”.


One of the areas he addressed was that many of the problems of adolescents are the result of low self-esteem. He states that many of the problems of our children and adolescents are not so much caused by poorly developed self-esteem as they are by a poorly developed sense of responsibility. Sense of responsibility is caring about other people and about the environment in which we live. It is taking others into consideration, taking care of the community, defending those who are weaker, and helping those who need assistance. While it may be that some children seem to be born with a strong sense of responsibility, the reality is that this is a long learning process.


Taking responsibility refers to a sequenced process which consists of:

  1. Admitting -the person/s agreeing to discuss what has happened and owning up, or admitting to what they have done.

Youngsters tend to deny their actions if they do not realize that an admission could be in their own best interest. Encourage the learner to admit to his/her wrongdoing. If he/she denies what he/she has done, identify what he/she fears would happen if he/she did confess. Sympathize with his/her apprehensions, but help him/her realize that admitting and taking responsibility is a better alternative for everyone than denying the action.


  1. Understanding – demonstrating that they understand the negative consequences of their actions.

Learners tend to play down the seriousness of their wrongdoings unless they see the harmful consequences of their actions. Ask the learner to think about what negative consequences his/her wrongdoing has caused for other people and for himself/herself. If the learner has difficulty in answering, resist the temptation to provide the answer. Instead, have him/her find out the answer themselves. How does what you did influence the other learner/your reputation etc?


  1. Apologizing – expressing their apology to those concerned.

An apology can be shallow and meaningless, if the question of how it should be expressed is not addressed with the learner and other involved parties. Help the learner think about to whom, how, when, and where to address his or her apology. An apology without remorse or understanding why it was wrong, does not really count.


  1. Making up – accepting that they will carry out a mutually agreed-upon method of reparation.

A stereotypical punishment does not necessarily help build sense of responsibility. A tailor-made reparation is often a better alternative. Ask the learner to volunteer to repair his/her wrongdoing.

4.1. Have the suffering party think of a fair reparation. If the victim takes part in the discussion concerning what would be such a consequence that it will have a reparatory effect on the relationship between the person who did wrong and the person who suffered from the act.

4.2. Help the parties negotiate a reparation.

4.3. If necessary, invite other people to take part in negotiating a fair reparation.


  1. Promising – promising not to repeat the behaviour and negotiating mutually agreed upon consequences should this promise be broken.

Learners are eager to promise not to do the same infraction again but their promise is often lip service if there is no agreement concerning what will happen should the learner brakes his/her promise. When pupils commit similar types of misdemeanours time after time, it is common that they are persuaded to stop by using threats out of anger but it is not effective. A better alternative is to have a negotiation with the learner where it is mutually agreed what will happen should he/she commit a similar wrongdoing again. In such a negotiation a detailed plan is drawn as to what will be done in case of recurrence. It is suggested that a written document is made of the agreement that is signed by the teacher, the learner and also some witnesses.


  1. Caring for others too – showing willingness to be proactive in the prevention of similar infractions among peers.

Help the learner realize what the experience of taking responsibility has taught him/her and encourage him/her to find a way in which to help the community of class or school to benefit from his/her experience. It is about rebuilding trust with others for taking responsibility. You learn something well when you teach it to others.

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