Why is it when you challenge your kid over their bad/destructive/rude (take your pick) behaviour, they ALWAYS blame someone else?

Nothing is ever fair and nothing is ever their fault and it’s annoying as hell! So how do you deal with this blaming behaviour?

“IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!” If you’ve never heard that at 150 decibels from a red-faced miniature version of yourself, are you even a parent?

When kids screw up, they often look for someone to blame. If there are no siblings within earshot, that person is usually you, dear old mum. Other times it can be the “stupid” coach or the “stupid” teacher or the “stupid” bus driver.

But it’s never dear little Johnny’s fault. The reason is a simple case of biology.

Getting to the bottom of kids’ blaming behaviour

Author of Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids, and founder of Aha! Parenting, Dr Laura Markham, says all mammals when in distress either run away (flight mode) or go on the attack (fight mode). So when your kid kicks their toe on the rocking chair, gets cut from the soccer team or flunks a test, stony silences or wild beasts in “fight mode” are to be expected.

One of the symptoms of fight mode is the blame game (aka blaming behaviour). It’s been going on since the beginning of time. Remember Adam and the forbidden apple? Caught red-handed, Adam tries to blame Eve and then even God for making the dastardly Eve. But it’s definitely not apple-munching Adam’s fault, no sir.

Lashing out when we’re upset and blaming others for our distress are completely normal human reactions, says Dr. Markham. Hear that? Your red-faced, exploding kid is normal.

“Most of us gain the ability to refrain from these almost automatic reactions as we get older, but we all know adults who seem to go through their lives with a chip on their shoulder, blaming others and reacting angrily to real or imagined slights,” Dr Markham says.

She has a point. What often happens when we burn the dinner? We yell at our kids for distracting us. Our son flunks algebra? We blame the inconsistent teacher. We get a speeding fine? We blame our partner for pressuring us to get home quickly. Our daughter has no friends? We blame the “mean girl” at school. When we eat our weight in chocolate, we blame our period. (Oh no, that’s right – it IS our period’s fault!)

angry boy, red face crying

How do we stop the blame game?

The good news is that there are ways we can help manage our kids blaming behaviour and encourage them to take responsibility. Dr. Markham says the key is remembering that we are likely dealing with a kid in “fight mode”.

“When something happens that kids know deep inside, is really their ‘fault’, that feels terrible to them. So they’re lashing out because they can’t bear their own feelings of upset toward themselves. To fend them off, they get angry. It’s an instant, automatic, response,” Markham said.

“But families who focus on solutions rather than blame can raise children who are more likely to take responsibility.”

Here are four ways to encourage kids to move away from blaming behaviour and instead take ownership of their attitudes and behaviours:

1. Modelling ownership

Our kids are watching our every move and learning from us. Scary huh? The best way to help little ones out of the blame game is to model ownership. Taking responsibility for our own mess is an important skill. While we may do that internally, it’s important to voice the process out loud so that kids can learn.

So next time you get that speeding fine, let your offspring see you take ownership. YOU should have been paying more attention, YOU shouldn’t have been rushing, YOU need to be more focused on the speed limit. Try not to shift the blame to the police officer, the other motorists or the distracting kids.

2. Encourage ownership

Try to create a no-blame household. Make taking ownership an appealing choice by using praise or rewards. If you catch your kid spilling a drink and saying they should have been more careful, praise the heck out of their response. If they blame the spilled drink on a sibling, remind them that mistakes are fine and we don’t need to blame others.

If the negative consequences of blame are worse than the appealing consequences of ownership, little Johnny is going to be more motivated to take responsibility. Try incorporating an occasional high five and say “ownership” if you catch your kid taking responsibility.

mum giving son high fives

3. Stay Calm

It’s hard to remain calm when your kid is yelling at you because they’ve forgotten to hand in their homework for the 282nd time, but remember they are in “fight mode”. Calming your farm when the little cherubs are pushing your buttons as furiously as a toddler in an elevator is no mean feat, but it is important.

Take some deep breaths, leave the room if you must, have a cuddle, whatever it takes to show your kid that there is no danger. If you can get them to relax, chances are they will come off the defensive and listen.

4. Empathise

An effective way to short circuit the blame game is to let your child know that their distress has been heard. When your child doesn’t make the netball team, acknowledging their pain will make them feel more understood. The disappointment will then feel like an acceptable emotion and less like an emergency for which they need to be in fight mode.

Using empathy will help create a safe space for a child to reflect on their own behaviour, rather than looking for someone to blame.

The ability to take responsibility for their actions is one of the most important gifts you can give your child. Why not try implementing a blame-free household for the school holidays? Set up a reward chart for taking ownership and work towards a treat at the end.

mum kissing son outdoors


It’s a tough gig being a parent because it’s a) it’s exhausting and b) children are challenging. so before you ask, yes, it’s totally normal to think your kid’s a turd. Also, no, you’re certainly not alone in thinking that alcohol in a bonafide parenting tool!

 

Author

Jillian Berry is the exhausted mother of four spirited daughters. Once a journo and editor, she now enjoys torturing her children with zucchini. When she’s not searching for her phone charger, she can be found trying to remember her password, which she only reset yesterday. She fantasizes about escaping to a remote island with her Kindle and a giant jar of Nutella. She’s also a (provisional) psychologist who’d love to make the world a better place, if only she could find the energy.

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