Enriching Relationships for a Lifetime   with Dr. Gary Oliver

Question

My 11-year-old son tends to blame others or circumstances whenever he is caught in misbehavior, embarrassed because he didnít do something right, or just feeling inadequate. How can I teach him to own up to his mistakes and take responsibility for them?

Answer

Your sonís problem goes back to the Garden of Eden. When God confronted Adam and Eve they both resorted to the blame game and their descendents have been doing it ever since. Weíve worked with hundreds of couples, church, parachurch and denominational leaders whose struggle with taking personal responsibility for their behavior has led to divorce, church splits and organizational disintegration. Families are torn apart, powerful ministries are compromised or even destroyed and God gets a black eye because of the irresponsible behavior of his children.

You are wise to want to help your son learn this critical lesson. One of the keys to becoming a mature person is the ability to take personal responsibility for our behavior. In Psalm 139: 23-24 the psalmist prays, ďSearch me oh God and know my heart, try me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you and lead me along the path of everlasting life.Ē

So what can you do? The starting place is not with your son but with yourself. In Deuteronomy 6: 4-8 God through Moses lets parents know of the importance of modeling. The essential starting point in quality parenting is to realize that the greatest gift you can give your child is not only what you do but also who you are. Don't get us wrong, what you do with and for your children is important. However it is easy to focus on our performance (what we do) to the exclusion of our person (who we are). It is easy to forget that some truths are better caught than taught. The lifestyle your son sees you model day in and day out is much more powerful than what he is told. Both are important. But there must be congruity between the talk and the walk.

What do you model? Is he aware that heís not the only one who has this tendency and that sometimes itís a struggle for you to own your own stuff? What does he see you do when you misbehave, are embarrassed by not doing something right or just feel inadequate? Do you share any of these personal experiences with him? Does he know how you handle them? Do you let him know when you get it wrong and then share with him how God helped you get it right?

The very best way to teach your son to own up to his mistakes and take responsibility for them is for you to own up to your mistakes and take responsibility for them. When you offend him or are unkind to him do you seize that opportunity to make it right? When you are tempted to blame others in your life for some problem you are having do you share with your son how you took responsibility for what you said or did?

Do you apologize? When you apologize are you specific about what you did or said that was wrong? Do you take full responsibility for your behavior rather than partially blame the circumstances or other people? Do you let him know what you are going to do different next time to make sure that it doesnít happen again? Do you help him see the blessing and benefit and growth opportunity that comes from taking responsibility? As he has a model for doing this youíll discover that heíll be much more likely to do it himself.

After over 25 years of marriage we still have some fairly good skills at blaming one another. However, God has helped us make Psalm 139: 23-24 a foundational passage for our marriage and our parenting.


Carrie Oliver, M.A., is an educator and a marriage and family counselor. Gary J. Oliver, Th.M., Ph.D. is executive director of The Center for Relationship Enrichment and Professor of Psychology and Practical Theology at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. The Olivers have co-authored Raising Sons . . . and Loving It! (Zondervan). Visit Carrie and Gary at www.liferelationships.com.

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