Whenever trouble is afoot, kids love to play the Blame Game. As a parent, trying to figure out who did what first can seem impossible and feel like it requires a degree in law—or at least some serious experience as a union negotiator or police detective to figure things out.
You know the routine: an argument breaks out in an adjacent room, followed by screams or a loud cry. As soon as the kids hear the thump of your advancing feet, their minds begin to mount their defense. It takes about 3.2 seconds for them to come up with seven reasons why whatever happened is not their fault. Kids blame one another. “He hit me first.” They blame inanimate objects. “The blocks fell on their own.” They even blame their own body parts as though they operate disconnected from the rest of their body. “I didn’t do it; my hand hit her.” When all else fails, and the evidence is stacked against them, they try to weasel out of responsibility by appealing to their good motive. “I didn’t mean to do it,” and “It was an accident,” are popular excuses with kids.
The more kids that are involved, the more complicated it can be to sort out the truth. If four of your little girls got into your makeup, you may never find out who instigated the crime until one of them comes clean to free a guilty conscience, forty years from now.
What is a parent to do when children resort to the blame game? Here are a few tips:
The Best Defense Is a Good Offense
Work with your children to teach them ahead of a crisis so they know what blame-shifting is. Get a copy of my latest book, Don’t Blame the Mud, and use it to teach your children about sin, blame-shifting, and God’s gospel solution to the problem of sin. Then, when your kids are caught in the midst of a conflict you can remind them of what they’ve learned and warned them by saying, “Tell me what happened, but don’t blame the mud.”
Point Out the Bad Fruit
Too often we get caught up with our kids’ arguments and miss the opportunity to deal with their heart desires. Sin springs from our sinful heart desires. You can discern what is going on in a kid’s heart by the fruit they display. We are all familiar with the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22–23—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. These are the very things our kids lack in the midst of conflict. Instead, they demonstrate the sinful desires of the heart such as hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage (tantrums), dissensions, factions, and envy. (Paul lists these in Galatians 5:20–21.) When our kids get angry in their blame-shifting, go after the anger of their hearts and ask them why they are angry. Ask them, “What is going on in your heart right now?”
Help Them See the Cause
James tells us quarrels and fights are caused by the desires that battle within us. We want something we can’t have or don’t get (James 4:1–2). So, put this key truth to work whenever your kids begin the blame game. Turn the truth of James 4:1–2 into a question, “What did you want that you didn’t get?” Asking them to tell you what they wanted gets to the heart of their desires and can help expose their sinful motives. If an argument broke out over a particular toy, it is less important to find out who had it first than it is to find out who refused to give up what they wanted and why. Exposing our kid’s motives undercuts the blame game.
Demonstrate by Example
While our kids are born with the ability to pass the blame to others, they often learn the finer points of blame-shifting from our poor example. As parents, let’s be careful to own our mistakes, admit our faults, and confess our sins. Then, when our kids are tempted to blame shift, we can point them back to our own weaknesses and challenge them not to make the same mistakes we have but rather own their failures and confess their sins.
Ultimately, humility in confession is the best antidote to blame-shifting and the value of our example to demonstrate humility before our kids can’t be underestimated. No law degree required!