Dealing With Excuses – 1

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 it all started when he hit me back!”

Even as adults we are prone to make excuses for our actions rather than take responsibility for them.  A crucial lesson to teach our children is that we are accountable for our behavior.

Even if no one saw us, some One saw us and we will give account for our words and deeds.

But how can we effectively deal with excuses?

First of all, we need to stop encouraging our children to make 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) or he got in with a bad crowd. It is 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 is impossible for us to do so. So, in the law, if a man does this 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.”

Often child training starts with training ourselves. In dealing with excuses, the first step is to train ourselves to stop asking for excuses. Focus on the behavior – “What did you do?”

In the next post I’ll share two more steps I discovered while working with over 300 kids from 4 years old through high school – two steps to dealing with excuses.

We can justify our every deed, but God looks at our motives.
Proverbs 21:2

Yes, each of us will give an account of himself to God.
Romans 14:12

And I tell you this, that you must give account on Judgment Day for every idle word you speak.
Matthew 12:36

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  • Reply Sarah Cieslik April 8, 2015 at 6:21 am

    So good! Thank you. I had never thought about this in this way. It really makes sense with the students I teach now. A large amount of them have NO sense of right and wrong, and personal responsibility for their actions. They believe if they do it, it’s okay, and no consequence is ever needed, because they have obviously never had to pay any consequences.

    • Reply Rick Malm April 9, 2015 at 10:51 am

      Thanks, Sarah. I think you will find part 2 is also really helpful. Part 1 lays the foundation but part 2 offers a couple of strategies for dealing with excuses. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

  • Reply Sarah April 16, 2015 at 10:11 pm

    This is so good (and challenging) to read. While reading, I thought of my poor example in making excuses. It often involves when I’m inconvenienced – yeek, to think I can so easily perpetuate this in our child! I shouldn’t be surprised. It also makes me reflect on how I handled my students. This is not just a parenting blog.

    • Reply Rick Malm April 17, 2015 at 8:41 am

      You are absolutely right, Sarah. I’m finding as I write these that I’m having to check my own heart often. It seems that child training starts with training ourselves. Perhaps God uses our children to teach us the stuff we refused to learn from our parents.

  • Reply Royce Hart April 17, 2015 at 1:00 pm

    Thank you for handling this tricky subject, bringing light to the heart of the matter. I’ll be chewing on this (and my parenting tongue!) for a long time.

  • Reply Rick Malm April 17, 2015 at 1:07 pm

    Thanks Royce. I appreciate you taking time to respond.

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