Blame-shifting is one of the oldest sins in the book, and one of the first strategies our kids deploy to avoid responsibility for their mistakes.
Blame-shifting made its debut when Adam blamed Eve for his sin. After Adam blamed Eve, she blamed the serpent, and we’ve been following in their footsteps ever since. No one taught Adam how to shift the blame for his first sin, nor does anyone need to teach our kids. We are all born with the instinct to blame-shift; it’s part of our sinful nature. So it is no surprise that our kids become pros at blame-shifting by the time they hit first grade.
You know the drill. You hear a scream coming from the boys’ bedroom, followed by an accusation: “He hit me.”
After an Olympic sprint to the boy’s bedroom, you find that your 5-year-old son John is a bucket of tears. You look over to his older brother Davis and ask, “Did you hit your little brother?”
“John spit on me,” Davis replies, shifting the blame back to John as he holds out his shirt, revealing a wet spot. Now your interrogation takes you back to John.
“John, did you spit on Davis?”
“He tried to take my car,” John answers in your makeshift courtroom, refusing to take responsibility. With that, an “‘I did not’ . . . ‘Did so’” argument breaks out between the boys and goes on until your temperature reaches critical, and you reprimand the two of them at the top of your lungs.
The ruckus wakes your wife, who enters the room just as you finish your angry scolding. “Honey,” she says, giving you “the look.” “You are raising your voice.”
“Don’t look at me,” you reply. “If these boys would play nice, I wouldn’t have to raise my voice.” Clearly, it’s not my fault, you think. They are the ones doing the fighting.
There it is again: blame-shifting. Whenever we get caught, whether it is in a fit of anger, a lie, or just about any lapse in judgment, we look to clear our name by shifting the blame on to something or someone else. If others irritate us and we get angry, it is their fault for irritating us. Burn the dinner while playing a game on your phone? It’s the oven’s fault. Throw away the birthday card, with the twenty-dollar bill inside? The person who left it on the table is to blame.
So how do you address blame-shifting in your family? Here are a few helpful pointers.
- Teach your kids how sin works. James 1:14–15 explains how our sinful desires give in to temptations, which lead to sin. Teach your children that our first instinct in response to our sin is shifting the blame away to someone or something else. Review the story of Adam and Eve’s shifting of their blame in Genesis 3. Teach them that blame-shifting is a sin (Romans 2:1).
- Lead your family by example. When you sin, don’t shift the blame. Take responsibility for your fault and confess your sin (Proverbs 28:13–14). When you address a conflict, remind your children to take responsibility without blame-shifting. You could say, “Okay kids, I want someone to take responsibility and tell me what you did wrong.”
- When you do fall to the sin of blame-shifting, confess blame-shifting as an additional sin and practice asking forgiveness for it. Parents, it is vital for us to model this practice before our children. While we don’t have to teach our kids how to blame-shift, we do have to teach them how to own their sin.
Finally, get a copy of Don’t Blame the Mud, a fun story I’ve written to help parents teach children to take responsibility for their mistakes. Don’t Blame the Mud also provides parents with a short Bible study on sin and temptation they can use with their family. After reading the book, you can use the phrase, “Don’t blame the mud” as a humorous reminder anytime your kids are tempted to shift the blame.