Blame Shifting

Today in our parenting group one mother talked about how, when she was angry with her toddler, her partner told her that she was out of control.

She quickly went from being angry with her toddler to being angry with her partner.

Things escalated.

Blame shifting happens fast when people are angry.

“How dare you tell me I’m out of control??? You try getting him to put his shoes on! In fact, why don’t you try? I’m going up to take a shower. And don’t ever say that to me again!!”

You’ve probably been there – at least a few times.

But let’s dissect this: toddlers, and children in general, can be frustrating. Especially when THEY feel frustrated. This particular toddler wanted to wear his mother’s shoe to school. Not both of her shoes. Just one of her shoes. His mother was trying to reason with him – and getting nowhere.

This little boy was yelling louder and louder. His mother just did not seem to be getting it! Why couldn’t he wear her shoe to school?

And as he yelled louder and louder, his mom found herself yelling louder and louder. Her partner was at least partially right, things WERE getting out of control. But the mom was so flustered that his saying this to her only made her feel worse. She felt that he was blaming her for not handling the situation better. And of course she was already angry with herself for not being able to manage her toddler. So, inevitably, her anger shifted to her partner.

This is easy to do.

So we discussed this in the group. The consensus was that it is often helpful to talk about this sort of situation when it is NOT happening – and for parents to agree with each other what can and should be done at the moment that will not cause the frustrated parent to feel blamed.

One mother suggested trading off – when she feels too frustrated she asks her partner to step in. She has found that this serves two functions – first she gets a break to calm down and second, her children learn that when they go too far, there is a consequence.

Another parent suggested having a “safe” word or phrase. In her case, the word is “breathe”. When things are getting out of control, she has asked her partner to say this to her and she has found that it actually helps her to take a step back from her own anger – and to take a deep breath.

Blame shifting happens at other times too – in arguments, when everyone is under stress, when people feel guilty and want to place the responsibility on someone else.

But it is never particularly productive.

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