Kids who Play the Blame Game Lose

Some children have a problem blaming others and not taking responsibility for their part of the problem. In the child’s imagination, it’s always someone else’s fault. These children have the ability to see all kinds of reasons why an offense occurs but can’t see their own part in it.

When children excuse themselves by blaming others they miss the point of correction and justify their poor responses. Underlying their thinking is often a misbelief that correction reveals that they’re inadequate, unworthy, or even stupid. This misunderstanding of correction often hinders significant progress. After all, one of the ways we learn something is through correction.

The Value of Taking Responsibility

Admitting your fault in a given situation isn’t optional. In fact, taking responsibility for your part of the problem is the first step toward improvement. We would suggest you clearly ask a child, “What did you do wrong?” Ask in a gentle way, not accusing. This allows your child to admit what he or she did wrong. The Bible calls it confession. Children must take responsibility for their part of the problem in order for change to take place.

Unfortunately, many parents encourage their children to defend themselves or blame others because of the way they approach the confrontation. When you enter a room and ask the question, “What happened here?” or “Who started it?” you are encouraging kids to rationalize, justify, blame, or defend their actions.

It’s much more effective to have children evaluate their own part of the problem. Even if a child views himself as a victim, his response to that situation is still important. Kids who lash out because they believe that they’re right often justify unwise responses to conflict. Your job is to help your kids see that their responses are important whether they were wronged or not.

Of course some children won’t want to admit what they did wrong. In that case it’s best to have them sit down somewhere for a while until they’re ready. Taking responsibility isn’t optional. If a child has forgotten or is unclear as to what the offense is, then you can clarify it, but don’t just have your child agree and go on. Ask the question again. It’s important for children to admit what they did wrong, and verbally saying it is part of the change process.

The reality is that most situations have multiple factors that contribute to the conflict. Children have an ability to focus on all of the other factors except their own. If others were involved, as they often are, a child should not excuse misbehavior by blaming someone else. The foolishness of others doesn’t justify a wrong response. All children need to take responsibility for their part of the problem.

A common mistake parents make is to engage in dialogue about the whole situation, trying to figure out who else was wrong, what was fair, or why such things happen. Those questions may be helpful at times, but you’ll get much further in helping your children change their hearts if you start by asking “What did you do wrong?” Most children don’t like to admit their faults so working on this during each correction time builds the character necessary for growth.

Your simple question can help children see their own mistakes and learn to take responsibility for them. When two children are fighting, for example, be careful not to focus on just one child’s offense or who started it. Usually when two children are fighting you have two selfish children. Work with the kids individually and ask each of them this simple question. Teach the offended child how to respond properly.

Confession is a Spiritual Issue

Confession is a spiritual skill. It’s God’s first step toward change. The Bible instructs adults to confess their sins one to another. James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”

God, of course, requires confession in order for us to receive forgiveness. He says in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” People who confess are empowered to change. Confession does something to a person. It somehow makes their offense more obvious. Confession also teaches humility, an important quality for change.

Kids have a way of justifying themselves or rationalizing because someone else did something. Although that may be true, confession helps children see that they had a part in the problem as well. Confession is God’s idea and a necessary part of the change process.

Taking Responsibility is Empowering

Those who blame others continually view themselves as victims, always focusing on others’ responsibility and ultimately feeling helpless. In fact, the blamer believes that his happiness is determined by others’ actions. This victim-mentality leaves a person feeling hopeless, continually complaining about life’s problems. A person who takes responsibility for his part of an offense is empowered to change because he recognizes his contribution to the problem, and also to the possible solution.

Refusing to allow blaming and requiring children to take personal responsibility prepares a child to think rightly about offenses. Instead of beating oneself up by saying, “I’m such an idiot,” or “I’m never going to get this right,” it would be better to simply admit fault, learn from it, and go on.

Lasting change takes place in the heart. Sometimes a child becomes self-protective and lacks the humility necessary for change to take place. Having a simple routine in place for processing offenses can go a long way to develop right thinking about mistakes. All of this can start with a great introductory question, “What did you do wrong?”

The idea of Transferring Responsibility to the Child is a pillar of a heart-based approach to parenting as taught by Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, RN, BSN. You can see more examples of this approach to parenting at ThrivingKidsConnection.com

11 Comments
  • Avatar
    Grace Collins
    Posted at 17:19h, 08 August Reply

    Hello. If you suspect that the main reason (almost every time) that your child won’t admit his faults and accept correction well is, as you describe, “that they feel that correction reveals that they’re inadequate, unworthy, or even stupid.”, then do you think that there is another thing also we should be addressing, and if so, how and what? Is it a deep insecurity or a matter of not yet finding his identity in who God says he is? I mean, we speak the Word over him plenty and he gets plenty of affirmation from us. He is very intelligent beyond his 10 years and is very good at many things he does. A lot of things come easy to him. And he has been acknowledged for this all of his life by everyone who comes into contact with him. Do you think that contributes to his problem of not accepting correction and admitting (without being made to) that he was wrong? Hope that made sense.

    • scott turansky
      scott turansky
      Posted at 17:32h, 08 August Reply

      Grace, sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what’s going on in the heart. But my supposition is that, most of the time, we don’t need to know the cause in order to work on the solution. So, I would suggest that if your son has a poor response to correction that we identify what he should do and set him up to practice it. Training is an important piece here. Our Positive Conclusion idea is not just an exercise at the end of correction times but it is training for the meditations of the heart.

      Several tools will likely be necessary to help him change. Firmness is a big one, but visioning about the positive change and how and why it is important also is heart-touching. Relational tools are important as well. And then too much electronics too early can create relational and self concept challenges for young people.. Feel free to share more here and I’ll then try to respond more specifically.

  • Avatar
    Grace Collins
    Posted at 17:10h, 09 August Reply

    You gave great, specific ways to work with him and we actually already do those things,but maybe we just need to “practice” more with him. Just to give you some examples: It is extremely hard for him to admit any mistake, anytime he did anything.Even sometimes accidentally. He’ll have to give some story that makes it look like he didn’t do anything wrong. We on purpose make him say the words “I was wrong.” Also, there are times where we will call an issue out like selfishness or pride, deceitfulness, etc and he will cry so hard and say “don’t say those things to me! I am not that way!” It’s as if his world has ended and he just can’t face the truth about something bad about himself. Please know that he gets plenty of grace and we let him know that he does a lot of good and right things. But he is a strong-willed child and thinks he does no wrong and will never fail at anything. That’s the other thing… because he has so many natural skills and a lot of things come easy to him, it’s almost devastating to him at times when he does struggle with something.

    • scott turansky
      scott turansky
      Posted at 18:18h, 11 August Reply

      Hmm. Grace. There are so many ways to reach the heart of a child, I’m thinking through various approaches to see what I might suggest here. Let me suggest this idea. I wonder if this might work. VISIONING is one of our 7 tools. The previous tool we talked about above fits into our FIRMNESS approach in a way that pulls a routine to practice firmly. That is, he needs to say, “I was wrong.” I like that approach and I think you should continue it, but it doesn’t seem to be having quite the desired effect. So, if we enter the VISIONING bucket of tools maybe we can get some traction. It also seems like normal dialog isn’t reaching him so we have to find something in this bucket that is more experience oriented.

      Visioning shows the value of working on this area of one’s heart. If we were to use words we might talk about how a person grows more quickly when they recognize that they can learn from mistakes. If we were going to tell stories we might tell the stories of experimenters in history who learned from trial and error. If we choose an experience we might play a game that requires trial and error. For example, a memory game that has cards upside down and you turn one over and then try to find a match. If you are successful great, but most of the time you fail. When you fail you must say these words. “Oops I was wrong. I can learn from that.” The game emulates life.

  • Avatar
    Grace Collins
    Posted at 11:27h, 12 August Reply

    Great ideas for visioning! We’ll definitely add these in! Thank you for your time, Dr. Turansky!

    • scott turansky
      scott turansky
      Posted at 11:34h, 28 August Reply

      You’re welcome! Thank you for taking time to comment.

  • Avatar
    Lacey Wood
    Posted at 08:06h, 16 August Reply

    So very grateful for your vulnerability, Grace, and for Dr. Turansky’s answers! Our 11yo daughter has the exact same heart struggle, to the point we’ve taken her to see a counselor a few times so that she’s hearing from someone beyond us that it is ok to make mistakes, and that we can choose to learn from them. Our children are cut from a similar mold, it seems, and I L.O.V.E. the dialogue above! So helpful to me as I consider more ideas for reaching her heart. Dr. Turansky, YOU GET IT. Grace, YOU GET IT, TOO. Grateful for this information and for your story and responses!!!!

  • Avatar
    Lacey Wood
    Posted at 08:10h, 16 August Reply

    One more thought: sadly, we ALL know adults who can’t own their mistakes or confess their sins. Heck, I used to be one! Putting on an armor of self-protection is incredibly exhausting, and at the end of the day, doing so alienates you: from relationships, from your true self, and from your Creator who adores you. When you armor up against personal weakness, you armor up against EVERYONE. So sad, because it turns into a character disorder in adulthood. I’ve seen such character disorders destroy many lives, including my own family of origin. I am grateful for an opportunity to follow Christ in breaking chains in my family! This ministry helps me in what is truly a battle for Truth.

    • scott turansky
      scott turansky
      Posted at 11:36h, 28 August Reply

      Well said Lacey!

  • Avatar
    Lygia Calderon
    Posted at 05:31h, 22 August Reply

    Hello there loved the approach. You also mentioned not to engage in defending parents actions or decisions. What might be a good answer to a child who starts this dialogue with a parent.

  • scott turansky
    scott turansky
    Posted at 11:39h, 28 August Reply

    Lygia, dialogue isn’t wrong, in fact, it’s helpful a lot fo the time. But you’ll know when it is not helpful because the child is somehow trying to manipulate or control the situation through dialogue. In those moments you want to move from the issue to the process. The process addresses the heart and is seen in the way the child is treating you. So, you might say, “Oops, you’re crossing the line here.” Or, “The way you’re treating me right now is not good.. I’ve given you an answer and arguing is not honoring.” Or, “This is one of those times when you need to let it go.” Those are a few ideas.

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