“It’s all their fault.” Last spring a few kindergarteners announced that Asian people had caused the coronavirus. Their teachers, who have been exemplary at discussing racial prejudice in developmentally appropriate ways (a topic we will discuss more this spring), responded to these particular assertions by focusing on science and problem solving. What is a virus? How does it spread? How can we prevent it?
Their approach demonstrates one way we can teach children to not to engage in the human tendency to blame others for anything that goes wrong, a practice that hurts others and teaches children to avoid admitting their part in a problem. “It’s your fault we’re sitting in traffic now. I told you I wanted to leave early.”
When we think about the results of blaming, we can begin to establish an environment at home and at school where people feel safe to admit mistakes and avoid lashing out in self-defense. We are living in an era when casting blame has become a national pastime. In times of rapid and change, finding fault with other groups can make life feel less scary. How convenient to accuse a racial or political group for our problems. If we want our children to grow up finding solutions to challenges, let’s begin by noticing blaming behaviors and teaching another way.
One place to start is with ourselves. When do we find it hard to say “I messed up” or even “Some of it was my fault”? Paying attention to our uncomfortable feelings can help us understand children. When we blame others, we shield ourselves from embarrassment and pain. If we want children to be able to admit their part when something goes wrong, we have to help them feel safe to say “Yes, I did that. It didn’t turn out well.”
How do we react when children blame us? “You bumped my arm and made me knock down my tower.” Though their assertions may feel exaggerated to us, we don’t want to get into an argument about why something isn’t our fault, as that provides an example of deflecting responsibility. “Sorry I bumped you. I can see how frustrated you are.”
Troubling situations aren’t about establishing who is right or wrong but encouraging each person to see her own role. Two children who are fighting will often say “He started it.” Letting each person talk and decide why it didn’t go well helps take it out of the realm of shame. We have to set limits about physical aggression, but talking through a situation builds important skills.
Encourage children to become champions of not blaming so they can help create the role of peacemaker.