The One Sentence That Gets My Kids to Take Responsibility

“I ______ ” Fill in the blank.
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I call them “I Statements”.

The thing I’ve found with sibling spats at my house, is that is usually takes 2 (or 3) to tango.

I, like most other parents, tire of being sidelined by kids bringing their latest laundry list of sibling complaints.  Their sentences are filled with the words: he, she, they, and what they did to ME!

I started to make my kids back up and begin their sentences with the word I.

I pull them all in the room together and they all talk about their part. Say it with me now “I (fill in the blank with what YOU did).”

Sounds too simple right? The accusing is gone. They are on the spot to only tell me about their own actions (and it’s pretty easy to fill in the gaps when one of them isn’t telling the truth).  It’s also easier to be honest when the person next to you is owning their role and actions. They’ll try to say “I . . . am really mad because so and so hit me.” We back up and I tell them to start over. We’ll stay there until they’ve filled in the blank with their own actions.

At first, you would have thought I put poison in their mouths and paralyzed their tongues. Those sentences taste bad. They are hard to spit out. They make it hard to speak for kids and grown ups alike.

We’ve had to work to get those sentences to come out and to come out quickly. Sometimes it takes time and a lot of reminding them to stop and work through it but the more they do it the easier it gets and the quicker we resolve things.

If they go off track, I literally just remind them to say “I” and then fill in the blank with what they did.

The other sentences that use the word “I” are just as important. “I’m sorry. I did this _____ to you.” Those sentences can be equally hard to spit out.

Starting a sentence with the word “I” might be one of the most important things we can teach our children. For relationships, for careers, for parenting, for taking responsibility and for advocating for yourself – the word “I” matters.

It’s not about taking blame, it’s about owning our actions and moving on. I’ve noticed over time that it’s become easier for my kids to not only own what they’ve done, but also to accept it, even laugh about it, and move on.  Sometimes we laugh (a lot) because when children actually say out loud what they’ve done, they actually realize how ridiculous it sounds (especially for school aged kids, my pre-schooler still struggles with this piece). We’ve had many moments where my oldest says what he actually did to his sisters and he starts laughing (embarrassed) because hearing the words out loud actually illustrates how ridiculous the behavior is.

From a professional perspective, have you ever been in a meeting or worked with someone where something has gone wrong and the person who “dropped the ball” just can’t raise their hand and say “hey, this is what happened, how can we fix it”? Ever tried to have a conversation with someone who has mastered the art of deflection and passive aggression? Nothing gets solved.

How much faster does something get fixed when someone admits that it’s broken and how it broke?

Owning our actions is important.

The moment I knew it had worked forever? When my husband and I were in a silly argument in front seat of the car and all of the sudden the voices from the back seat started saying, “I _____ fill in the blank MOM!”

More onTodaysMama.com:

The 5-Minute a Day Fix for My Moody Tween

How to Raise a Loser

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