“It’s not my fault. He made me do it.”
While serving as principal of a Christian school two little boys were hauled into my office for fighting.
I put on my “stern, disappointed Principal” face and asked what happened.
“He hit me!”
I could see the anger on the other boy’s face. So I asked, “Did you hit him?”
“Yes. But the fight started when he hit me back!”
Even as adults we’re prone to make excuses for our actions rather than take responsibility for them. A crucial lesson to teach our children is that we’re accountable for our behavior.Even if no one saw us, some One saw us and we will give account for our words and deeds.
Yes, each of us will give an account of himself to God. Romans 14:12
How can we effectively deal with excuses? Here are three keys that I discovered while working with over 300 kids from age 4 through High School and in parenting my own three.
1. Stop Encouraging Excuses:
A natural response when our child misbehaves or does something foolish is to ask, “Why did you do that?”
Without realizing it, we have just asked them to provide an excuse and we implied, “If you can come up with a good enough excuse you will be off the hook.”
When we focus on the “why” of the behavior rather than the behavior itself we teach our children to come up with better and better excuses instead of taking personal responsibility for their actions.
I believe this is a major reason for the general lack of personal responsibility in our society. Even our courts no longer seek to determine who committed the crime but why they did it.
He shot the convenience store clerk because he grew up in a poor neighborhood (though millions grow up in worse poverty and never kill anyone). He is failing in school because he got in with a bad crowd. It’s not his fault that he chose to hang around with that crowd.
The criminal law God gave Israel in the Old Testament never allows one to avoid consequences based upon excuses. God can and does judge a man’s motives but it’s impossible for us to do so.
So, in the law, if a man does this, then these are the consequences for his behavior. No need to play head games and try to determine why he did it. You merely need to determine if he did it and if so then he has earned the consequences. (The wages of sin … Romans 6:23)
When we deal with our children based upon their behavior rather than the motive behind the behavior we teach them they are accountable for what they did even if in their own heart they were justified – which they always will be because “all a man’s ways are right in his own eyes.”
2. Recognize An Excuse When You Hear One:
Even if we don’t encourage them, our children will make excuses so it’s important we learn to recognize when they are making an excuse rather than taking personal responsibility for their actions.
Here are some typical excuses.
- Denial – “I didn’t do it.”
- Blaming others – “He made me do it.”
- Blaming circumstances – “The glass of milk spilled.”
- Blaming authorities – “But that’s what Dad told me to do.”
- Blaming our nature – “I’ve always had a bad temper.”
- Self-reproach – “I guess I’m just clumsy.”
While the first four examples are pretty easy to recognize as excuses, the last two are more subtle. It sounds like the child is accepting responsibility for his behavior but actually this self depreciating approach is still saying his actions were not his fault, they were beyond his control. They are excuses.
It’s natural for a parent to be jolted by the last two and forget about the incident. “You aren’t clumsy (stupid, lazy, etc) it was just an accident.”
This can be a very effective way a child learns to avoid the consequences of bad behavior. As a parent it’s important we not get sidetracked by this. We can deal with the fact that they aren’t clumsy, stupid, etc later but we must deal with the misbehavior first.
Don’t let your mouth make a total sinner of you. When called to account, you won’t get by with “Sorry, I didn’t mean it.” Ecclesiastes 5:6
3. Focus on their behavior:
If several kids are involved in the incident help each one focus on their part.
Joe reports: “Susy threw the spoon at Johnny.”
Parent’s Response: “What did you do, Joe?”
Susy and Johnny’s behavior will be dealt with separately.
“She called me a name so I hit her.”
Response: “So you hit your sister.”
This puts the focus back on his behavior and not the excuse.
Her actions will be dealt with separately but he needs to take responsibility for his behavior.
We want to teach our children:
- The misbehavior of others does not absolve us from responsibility for our actions.
- When we stand before God we will not give account for what others did but we will give account for our behavior and for how we responded to what others did.
By training our children that they are accountable for their behavior – regardless of what others did – we are preparing them for life and eternity.
Child training starts with training ourselves.
In dealing with excuses, the first step is to train ourselves to stop asking for excuses.
Recognize excuses when they are offered and then focus on the behavior – “What did you do?”
We’ll likely never totally eliminate excuse making but we can let our children know that no matter how truthful or accurate the excuse it does not absolve them from responsibility for their actions.
We can justify our every deed, but God looks at our motives. Proverbs 21:2
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