Helping Children Admit Mistakes and Take Responsibility

“It wasn’t me!!!!” As a parent, you probably have heard those words many times from your children. Accountability seems too often to be a bit of a lost art. A recent conversation at a social event centered on many of the participants agreeing that we live in a world where people don’t admit their mistakes and are more likely to place blame for errors on someone else.
How can we help our children learn that it’s important to take personal responsibility for mistakes? First, it’s a natural reaction for children to avoid admitting anything that they think will get them into trouble. They don’t want to have a parent angry with them or get punished in some way. Self-preservation is a powerful instinct.
Adults are guilty of this too. Not only do many adults avoid admitting their mistakes, they frequently insist on blaming others. When children grow up hearing their parents consistently give excuses and blame others, they will develop that pattern in their own lives too.
So, where do we start?
• Acknowledge your own mistakes in a calm way. (“I should not have been rude to that clerk. I was frustrated, and she was just trying to do her job.”)
• Discuss mistakes and how things could be handled better in the future.
• Be realistic with your expectations for your children. Childhood has a big learning curve. Remind your children that sometimes they will make mistakes but that you will be there to help them learn from them. Understand that mistakes don’t always involve dishonest or malicious behavior.
• Praise children when they do show accountability. Be supportive and acknowledge the effort it took to be truthful and take responsibility.
• Don’t bail your child out from everything. Allow natural consequences if it won’t endanger them. For example, if they don’t complete requirements at school to earn a privilege, support the teacher and reinforce that the consequence is due to their failure to do their part. Don’t try to “make it up to them” if they are disappointed. Don’t make excuses for them.
James Baldwin said, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” Think twice the next time you are ready to blame someone or something when your own life goes a little off track. Take a deep breath, admit the mistake, and move forward. Your child needs you to show them the way.


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