Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash
Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

Teaching Responsibility


Our oldest daughter is 15 and it seems like it’s almost impossible for her to admit when she is wrong, apologize and ask for forgiveness.  What can we do?  How can we help her learn the importance of taking responsibility for her actions?


It’s one thing to teach our kids how to be responsible for things like cleaning their rooms and picking up their toys.  It can be a whole different challenge to teach them how to take responsibility when they’ve done something wrong, to apologize, and to seek to make it right.  Actually, I’ve worked with many adults who still struggle with this issue.

If two children are playing in a room and you hear something break and go into the room to find out what happened you’ll probably see each child pointing a finger at the other one saying “He did it!”

Blame.  It’s the nature of  our fallen human nature.  It started in the Garden of Eden.  When God asked Eve what happened she blamed the snake.  When God asked Adam he blamed Eve and then he blamed God himself.  We’ve been blaming each other ever since the beginning of human history.

We used to live in the land of the free but we now live in the land of the “fault-free” because whenever anything goes wrong it’s always easy to blame and make it someone else’s fault.

What are the consequences of blaming?  It’s dishonest and can destroy relationships.  It breeds irresponsibility.  It weakens or breaks trust.  It hinders growth and maturity and, according to Proverbs 28:13, whoever hides or conceals his transgressions will not prosper.  But it goes on to say that the person who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.

How can you help your daughter?  First of all ask yourself how much blame or finger-pointing takes place in your home?  When you make a mistake do your kids hear you blame the day, the weather, your boss or each other?   Then, as a family, agree to practice saying these nine words

I was wrong.  And this is exactly what I did or said that was wrong.  This isn’t just some global confession but it speaks specifically to what was actually said or done.  No excuses.  No finger-pointing.

I am sorry.  I’m not just sorry I got caught.  It is an identification and acknowledgement of how my action impacted someone else.  I’m sorry I was thoughtless, careless, disobedient, hurt you, offended you, embarrassed you, lied or cheated or whatever was done.  Sorry also means that with God’s help I’m going to do everything I can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Please forgive me.  Notice this one is not a demand but a request and an acknowledgement that sometimes it can take time to forgive and rebuild trust.

Accepting responsibility is a learned behavior.  In can be difficult to teach kids how to take responsibility but it’s much easier when they see mom and dad taking responsibility for their mistakes.  When our kids hear mom and dad say to them and to each other, “I was wrong.  I am sorry.  Please forgive me.” they are much more likely for this to become a part of who they are.

Gary J. Oliver, ThM, PhD
Executive Director at Center for Healthy Relationships | + posts

Dr. Oliver is the Executive Director of The Center for Healthy Relationships, and professor of Psychology and Practical Theology at John Brown University.  He has authored over 20 books and more than 350 professional and popular articles.  Dr. Oliver has over 40 years’ experience as a Clinical Psychologist, Marriage  & Family Therapist and Spiritual Director.  He leads seminars & workshops both nationally and internationally on a variety of counseling-related issues, healthy relationships as well as Emotional & Relational Intelligence (ERI).

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