When my son was a toddler and would get in trouble for breaking things or doing something he wasn't supposed to do, his response was: "Accie did it!" I guess he must have heard us say "it was an accident" and thought it was a person who usually caused problems and hence could be blamed for anything. That's when I started worrying about how to teach my children to take responsibility for their own actions while at the same time know when to advocate for themselves. It's a fine balance. And children really learn from the example of the adults around them more so than by being told. In other words, I can't really teach it to someone if I haven't found that balance myself. I think of how often I might say: "You are making mommy lose her patience," or "See what you made me do?" Of course, children can be irritating and test our patience at times, but ultimately I am in charge of my responses. Little by little, children can begin to see the possibility of putting the blame for their actions on outside forces. Once I was hosting a group of nine and ten year olds at my house. They became excessively rambunctious and disruptive while playing. When one of the parents came to pick them up and asked how they had behaved, I mentioned the fact that they had had a rough time. The parent asked if I had served them any sweets. I mentioned that I had offered them some cookies as a snack. "That's it then," said the parent. "He gets like that when he eats too much sugar." I don't deny that food can have a negative effect on some children but providing that as a quick excuse for bad behavior, absolved the children from taking responsibility for their actions. I remember as a child when I would fall or run into a piece of furniture, grown ups would try to comfort me by blaming the inanimate object that had hurt me. Bad table! Why did you hurt my baby? When I had children of my own, I was afraid that such words, even though spoken out of love, would subtly convey the message that when hurt or angry, our response should be to find someone or something to blame. We so want to protect our children and stand up for them. Especially if we felt vulnerable and defenseless as children ourselves. But it is possible that in the process we rob them of the ability to evaluate a situation and assume the appropriate measure of responsibility.
Some of us grew up in settings where it was always our fault. Teachers and other adults were always right and our side of the story was never heard. So we end up blaming ourselves for everything. I think the balance comes from learning to practice truthfulness and justice with ourselves first, and then with our children. I think we all have an inner voice that tries to tells us what is true and just. When we ignore it, it grows quieter and quieter, until one day it is completely silenced. Our job as parents then is to nurture this voice within ourselves and help our children find theirs and listen to it.