My nine-year-old son never apologies or confesses to things, even if it’s obvious that he’s the one who took something that wasn’t his and we later find it hidden in his room. He blames his siblings or me, even when he’s caught. How can I get him to stop blaming other people when he’s done something wrong?
No More Blame Game
No child wants to confess to a mistake if he or she fears what will happen as a result. But being willing to own our mistakes is a valuable quality; one that breeds trust, connection and opportunity. Here’s my advice:
• Demonstrate the kind of accountability you want to see in your son. If you’re late picking him up after school because you lost track of time while catching up with a friend on the phone, don’t make excuses about bad traffic, or try to convince him that he’s exaggerating when he says he was the last kid to get picked up. Say, “I’m sorry, honey. I got caught up in a conversation with one of my old friends, and didn’t leave early enough to pick you up on time.” In other words, take responsibility, tell the truth, and put a big fat period at the end of your apology.
• Take a look at your reactions when your son does admit he’s done something he shouldn’t have. Open up the communication around this issue by asking him if he worries about your reactions. If he tells you, “I didn’t want to tell you that it was me who spilled the orange juice cause I knew you’d get mad like you always do!, acknowledge his dilemma. Say something like “I guess if you’re scared of getting yelled at or punished, it’s easier to just blame your brother. Let’s talk about how I can help you know that it’s okay to tell me the truth.”
• Explore with your son what it means to him to be perceived as “wrong”. Tell him that being human means that we will make mistakes, and that you don’t expect him to be perfect all the time. “I want you to know that I love you, no matter what. When you mess up, I’m going to try to tone down my reactions so you’ll know it’s safe to tell me the truth, and then help you figure out how you might have handled a problem better. Would you be willing to take responsibility, then, when you make a mistake, instead of blaming other people?”
• Slow things down. Some children get so used to blaming others that they actually lose sight of the truth, believing their own story with all their heart. Rather than interrogating your son when you’re suspicious about the “facts” he’s presenting, slow down. “Honey, I hear you saying you didn’t break the lamp, and that you weren’t even in the living room all day. Let’s hit the ‘Pause’ button for a minute. Think about what you would say if you weren’t afraid of getting in trouble. It feels a whole lot better to tell the truth—even if it hurts—than to get twisted up in a lie…”
• Acknowledge him in a positive way when he does take responsibility for a mistake. As your son begins to test the waters and confesses something to you that he might otherwise have blamed on somebody else, let him know that you appreciate him taking the risk to tell the truth.
By managing your reactions, opening up dialogue with your son, and most importantly, showing him what it looks like to take responsibility when things go wrong, rather than blaming others, you’ll help your son change this pattern of behavior.
Yours in parenting support,
Parent Coach, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.