Helping Kids Break the “It’s not my fault!” Habit

Personal responsibility is tough. It’s so much easier to blame another person, the circumstances or anything else we can find for our bad behavior, hurtful words, or less than brilliant choices. And I’m not just talking about kids here. We all know adults who too often point to outside forces to justify and defend their actions. And let’s be honest, we’ve all been that person more times than we’d like to admit.

One of our goals as parents and caregivers is to teach children to take responsibility for their own actions and words. A task that’s much easier said than done. As kids move into the school age years, we hear more and more excuses about how they were provoked into hitting a sibling, why they couldn’t finish their homework or why they felt lying was a necessary choice. It’s easy to get sucked into the debate about why an excuse is or isn’t valid or to just get worn down by the never ending stream of justifications and ignore the problem altogether. Neither one of those strategies actually help us reach our goal of teaching personal responsibility.

A more effective approach is to:

1. focus on the core issue

2. make your expectation clear (e.g. it’s never OK to hit, it’s your responsibility to make sure you have the complete homework assignment)

3. help your child figure out what he can do differently next time

4. let the natural consequences of the situation unfold

Check out the article Kids and Excuses: Why Children Justify Their Behavior for a detailed look at this challenge. And remember, modeling is always the best first step in trying to teach anything!

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