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Why we need to teach kids to take responsibility … even when it’s not their fault

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By KayaMe | Shutterstock
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We do our children a favor when we help them learn early on that unintended actions can still have dramatic consequences.

“I didn’t do it on purpose!”

Children often hide behind this little sentence to justify their clumsiness or negligence. Yet, the “not done on purpose” can’t completely absolve them — they must learn to be responsible for their actions even when they’re not at fault.

Certainly, causing damage inadvertently is not the same as intentionally provoking it. Take for example, if the damage in question is the unfortunate consequence of an action dictated by the will to actually do good. It could be the broken plate while setting the table, the broom that accidentally catches on something and breaks, or the car that gets scratched by a young inexperienced car washer.

If we get angry against about these small domestic disasters, our children feel that our reproaches are deeply unjust: “I did not do it on purpose! I wanted to help you! “

Is it a good excuse?

We must not dramatize the damage, but reassure the child and congratulate them for the service rendered, rather than emphasize their clumsiness. While helping them to put the damage right as far as possible: “You did not do it on purpose, but you still did it.”

However, the “not done on purpose” isn’t an acceptable excuse when something has been deliberately. If our little car washer refuses to follow his father’s instructions and does whatever he wants, we can legitimately blame him for having damaged the car’s body. The same goes if the dishes are broken because a child is furious about being asked to set the table. So even if the consequences were not sought, we can still say: “You did not do it on purpose, but you should have decided not to do it.”

Consequences of carelessness and indiscipline

Helping children learn a sense of responsibility for their actions is to take them seriously and do them a favor, especially because carelessness and lack of discipline can sometimes have dramatic consequences.

One of the most tragic examples is that of road accidents: the reckless drivers do not want to kill, and yet they do! Initially, it is just running a red light, drinking one glass too many, or an inhabited area passed through at full speed because the driver is late. In the end, lives are broken.

On the Last Judgment Day, will we be able to say: “I did not do it on purpose,” in front of those who suffered from hunger, loneliness, sickness, rejection, without us coming to their help? “Lord, we love You! We did not purposely let these people die of despair. We did not see them, we did not have time, we took everything for granted … “

Let us read the parable of the wise virgins and foolish virgins again (Matthew 25:1-13). The thoughtless women did not purposely let their lamps go out, however, when the bridegroom arrived, they were not ready and were excluded from the party. Their lack of vigilance was fatal. Even more, we see this in the parable of the house in the storm (Matthew 7: 24-27): He who built his house on sand obviously did not want it to collapse, however, that is exactly what happened because he didn’t bother to found it on the rock.

Let us confide our fragility to His Mercy

Jesus asks us to “purposefully fulfill” the Father’s will (Matthew 7:21-22). He wanted us to be free and responsible creatures so that we roll up our sleeves in order to actually put His Word into practice. Beware of the “good for nothing” ones, who do not have the courage to grow their talents (Matthew 25:30), as well as the cowards who do not know how to run away from temptations (Mark 9:43-48)! Even though they do not intentionally seek sin, the Lord is very harsh on them.

On the other hand, if we follow Jesus, obeying as He does what his Father asks of Him, if we confide our fragility to His mercy, we will accomplish marvels beyond us “without doing it on purpose.”

Christine Ponsard

Read more: The highly effective parenting style of St. Joseph for today’s dad

Read more: The one thing (really!) that makes parenting small children a lot easier

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