My children struggle a bit to own their mistakes. It seems like when they are busted they divert and try to blame a sibling, the circumstance, or even me or Chad sometimes. Most of the time a simple “I’m sorry” would suffice and we could all move on, but because they won’t own their mistake, the problem is unnecessarily extended.
Here is a perfect example that happened one Saturday morning:
I heard a crash in the bathroom with the sound of metal clinging. Immediately Locke yelled, “Mom!! I need you in here!!” I rushed in to find the toilet paper holder on the floor and toilet paper everywhere. I didn’t say much. It was not a big deal. That toilet paper holder is very finicky and it just needed to be mounted back on the wall. I immediately started to fix the problem, and it was taking some of my concentration. Locke was still upset about the accident. Then out of nowhere he yelled, “That’s why dad should buy more glue!”
Somehow Chad got blamed for knocking the toilet paper holder off the wall when, at the time, he was actually in Miami. Ha.Ha.
This story illustrates how responsibility is often diverted in our home. Chad and I handle our children’s attempts at misdirection in three ways.
1. Calling them out directly
As soon as Locke finished attempting to blame Chad’s lack of glue buying I said, “This is not about dad. He isn’t even around. He is in Miami. This is your responsibility. It was an accident and accidents happen to everyone. It is not dad’s fault.”
We will also say, “You are misdirecting the blame. Own up to your part in the matter.” or “This is not about your brother (or sister), this is about you.”
Clearly labeling the problem and identifying who is really responsible will hopefully help them to recognize their part in future situations.
2. Using humor
Another way we try to have our children own their own mistakes is by using humor.
We take a cue from Into the Woods and sing “It’s His Fault” but with our own story and words. The other kids participate too, and we have a fun time seeing how far away we can place the blame from the actual culprit. Everyone in the immediate family usually gets roped in. Sometimes grandmas take the heat. Friends aren’t exempt. Even Jesus has been blamed before. (I had to back track on that one.)
For example, let’s say Crew knocks over a glass vase because he is throwing a football in the house. Locke might get blamed for not catching the ball. Croft’s at fault for having music on that distracted Crew. Mom might get blamed for placing the vase on the table in the first place. Grandma might be at fault for buying Crew a football, and his coach should have never taught him how to throw. (And if Jesus hadn’t made cows, there would be no leather for the football, and the vase might still be standing.) You get the idea.
The point is to be so outrageous with whose fault it was that the kids can see how erroneous their claims are. We usually end up laughing and having the perpetrator own up.
3. Modeling appropriate responses
Perhaps the best thing we can do as parents is just model an appropriate response when we make a mistake ourselves.
I basically stole Elle’s Christmas present that Locke gave her. It was a pink notebook; I needed some paper, and I didn’t see Elle using her new notebook anytime soon, so I used it. I got caught. Both Locke and Elle busted me. They couldn’t believe I would steal her present. They laid on the guilt and shame. At first I started to make excuses like “I’ll buy you another one” or “I didn’t think you were going to use it,” but I caught myself and just said, “I am sorry. That was wrong of me to use your gift without asking.”
I say “I am sorry” often to my children. Coupled with eye contact, these three words go a long way to repairing the mistakes we make as parents. I want my children to be comfortable with the phrase and not feel ashamed to use it.
Chad and I are hoping that these three methods will help our children to learn to accept responsibility for their actions. We hope that they will learn to own their mistakes without shame, say sorry and move on. This skill will serve them well as spouses, employers, employees and as parents.