Who’s to blame?

June 16, 2017 18:00
When a child falls on the ground, an adult can show care by asking what happened and if the child is okay. Photo: Sohu.com

I recently saw a situation where a little boy fell on the ground and an adult hurriedly came over to see if he was okay.

It was just a slip so the boy was fine but the adult immediately said, “The floor is so naughty. Hit the floor.” The boy was being told to punish the floor for "making him fall".

Now I’m not sure what made the boy fall – maybe he just lost his balance, or there was a wet patch on the floor, or he tripped on something – but whatever it was, I’m sure the floor didn’t "make him fall".

I never realized what an issue I have with this practice and it seems that it is rather common in Chinese culture.

I’m not sure how this kind of teaching came about but perhaps it was to make the child feel better, to let the child know it wasn’t his fault or just to express frustration over an accident.

Of course, the floor wouldn't mind being punished for something it did not do, but this kind of reaction from an adult could be sending the wrong message to our children.

First of all, it’s just not true. I believe in telling children the truth because that’s what builds trust between us and it also encourages them to tell the truth. So call me a killjoy but I won’t teach my child about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.

Telling him that "the floor is naughty for making you fall" is simply not the truth. And in this case, I think a kid can handle the level of truth an adult needs to share.

Secondly, it’s putting blame on something that doesn’t deserve it. The floor obviously didn’t do anything to cause the slip so by "punishing" the floor, we may be telling the child that we can blame others for something they didn't do.

It may seem fine when it’s the floor but what if the child grows up and learns to blame other people for something they are not responsible for? What if he believes that it is always someone else's fault that bad things happen?

Thirdly, this reaction of blaming something causes children to immediately think of an external reason for a mishap instead of self-reflecting on what they could have done better or differently.

Imagine if a child fails a school exam and the immediate response is "it’s not my fault – the test was too difficult".

This isn’t constructive to a child’s development as it doesn’t cause her to think inwardly as to how she could have done better or do better the next time around.

What if she always looks for someone or something to blame instead of self-reflecting on what she may have done for something to happen? 

Now I’m certainly not proposing that we take it to the other extreme and start blaming, shaming or reprimanding the child.

All too often I have heard adults telling their children how stupid/slow/clumsy they are for making mistakes or just a mishap like slipping on the floor. I think there are much better ways to handle such an incident.

To me, the most important thing to have is empathy – the ability to understand the thoughts and feelings of other people. So when an accident happens, in addition to checking the safety of those involved, I think we need to respond with empathy.

First, to show care by asking what happened and if the child is okay. Crouch down or kneel down on the floor to be on the same eye level as the child and ask if he is okay. Ask where it hurts and what happened. Understand the situation.

Second, let him know that you understand his feelings. Start by saying, “I know that must really hurt right now” or “I know you feel embarrassed about falling in front of so many people”.

Third, ask what could be done differently next time. Get him to think through different options of what could be done differently. Assume responsibility for things that can be controlled. For things that can’t be, then leave it at that.

We want to raise our children to become responsible and trustworthy people. We can start right now.

-- Contact us at [email protected]


Founder and Principal at JEMS Learning House