Mom tired of son blaming everybody but himself
by Mary Follin and Erika Guerrero
Read on Fredericksburg Parent & Family magazine
THE PROBLEM: My son (9 yo) has a bad habit of blaming people. (He blames our dog, too, if something gets knocked over or eaten.) He’s constantly ‘telling’ on his two sisters, and it doesn’t matter WHO did WHAT, I can never get a straight story from him. It’s always their fault. His teacher is also the ‘bad guy,’ and ‘everybody is always picking on him.’ The worst is during games, when ‘the coach never lets him play,’ or ‘James missed that fly ball and lost the game,’ even though the ball clearly landed practically at my son’s feet. I’m in a weird spot when I try to address this, because I feel like I’m constantly pointing out how my son is at fault, which isn’t helpful. I’m a little stuck here.
MARY SAYS: Blaming is so disempowering, isn't it? Sure, it would be great if everybody took responsibility for their own actions, but as human beings, we don’t always do that. And pointing fingers doesn’t help; it only adds to the problem, blurring the line between blamer and offender. So, I'd like to offer a new way to think about it.
What if we didn’t need everybody to take responsibility for their actions? What if holding other people accountable becomes a mere “nice-to-have”?
The first thing that would happen is that ‘other people’ would become considerably less annoying. But more importantly, we would be free of the bondage of victimhood, which is what habitual blaming is all about. Constantly blaming others creates a world view that says, “I am at the mercy of what other people do to me.” That said, identifying the blamer as victim is a tricky concept, which may be tough to explain to a nine-year-old.
What you can offer your son instead is a game.
Rather than calling him out for blaming, show him how he can take charge of his destiny by reframing the situation and putting himself in the starring role. When somebody “does something to him,” ask him to play with it a bit.
Let’s pretend he says, “I didn’t pass the test because the teacher made the questions too hard.” Suggest to him that the teacher (and everybody else for that matter), is an extension of a cosmic game he is playing, and that roles are interchangeable. Ask him to substitute the word “I” for the teacher.
“I didn’t pass the test because I made the questions too hard.” This slight change in wording may sound odd—even untrue, which is okay, it’s only a game—but it brings an infinite source of power back to your son. Now, the logical conclusion can be, “How did I make the questions too hard? Was I overthinking my answers?” or “How did I make the questions too hard? Did I not study enough? Did I need extra help understanding the topic?”
Here’s another one: “The coach never lets me play” becomes “I never let me play.” How am I keeping myself from playing? Am I practicing enough? Am I asking the coach to help me? Have I asked the coach to let me play more? Is it even true that I’m not playing?
At first, you might feel as though you’re teaching your son to deceive himself. But if you look around at people who move through life with ease, that’s what they do. Because who can possibly know every single detail of every circumstance in their lives? No one. It’s always about the story we attach to it, which is faulty at best. Regardless of what actually happened, your son will learn to spin it, bringing creative, empowering solutions to mind and no longer feeling like the world is out to get him.
ERIKA SAYS: It sounds like your son has the blame-game down pretty well, playing the victim in each of the situations you describe. The good news is that you can help him break this habit by making a few changes and staying consistent with it. The goal is to shift his mentality from that of victim to someone who takes responsibility.
So how do you do that?
With one minor switch: focus on solutions instead of blame. When you help your son put his energy on finding a solution, you’re teaching him to take responsibility. Mistakes can be learning opportunities, but when we shift the blame to someone else, we miss the chance to learn from our mistakes.
Here are some ideas on how you can teach your son to learn from his mistakes:
Let’s say he spills milk at the table and tries to blame Rover, who happens to be somewhere in the vicinity.
Call him out: But call him out in a way that doesn’t make him feel ashamed. Perhaps in a joking tone, something like, “Wait a minute! Are you blaming the DOG for spilling your milk?”
Understand why: Perhaps he’s afraid he’ll get in trouble for making a mess. Offer empathy: “I know the feeling. It’s a drag when we make a mess. Such pain to clean up!”
Find a solution: Say something like: “Mistakes happen, bud. What do you think is the best way to get this cleaned up”? While you help him clean up, ask: “How can we make sure this doesn’t happen again”? Suggest he place his cup at the top corner of his placemat, but also ask him for ideas of his own.
It’s important for your son to understand that mistakes don’t make us bad people. It simply means we made the wrong call, and now we must accept responsibility and do better next time. When my son makes a mistake, I’ll usually ask him: “How can we make sure this doesn’t happen again?” (Note: When there is another child involved, I hold everyone accountable, not just my son.)
Our children imitate how we interact with others and how we handle situations. They also observe how we treat ourselves. If you openly show your son how you take responsibility for your actions, solve problems, and own your mistakes, he will follow suit.
ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising a small child (Erika). If you’re looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn’t around to ask, drop in!
If you have a question for Mary and Erika, we’d love to hear from you!
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ABOUT MARY FOLLIN
Mary is the author of TEACH YOUR CHILD TO READ and ETHYR, winner of the Moonbeam Children's Book Award and the Gertrude Warner Book Award. She is mom to two grown sons and enjoys sharing her more seasoned perspective with parents of younger children.
ABOUT Erika Guerrero
Erika Guerrero is a freelance hair and makeup artist, Erika K. Beauty, single-mama to one amazing boy, and author of She’s Not Shaken, a blog offering hope and encouragement to women in all walks of life.
ABOUT Suzanne Johnson
Suzanne Johnson, mother of five children and grandmother of eight, is an illustrator, book cover designer, and author of the Realms of Edenocht series.
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