Tips For Emotion Coaching Children – Avoid Blaming Using The “Triple Say Strategy.”

When something goes wrong in my child’s life, he always blames someone else…even when he’s clearly at fault.  How can we help him accept more responsibility?

Great question!  Blaming others and shaming them for “being the cause” of our distress is a common human reaction.  Blaming is an instant, automatic, response to perceived injustice.  The primary emotion at the root of most blaming behavior is disappointment. It is one of the most difficult emotions to tolerate, and we often feel better by blaming someone because it distracts from the emotion (usually with anger) and there is some satisfaction in justifying the feeling through blame.    


It’s easy to see how universal this is if we look at our own tendency to lash out when we feel fear, disappointment, or sadness:

  • We almost run a red light and yell at our kids for distracting us.
  • We absentmindedly swerve into the other lane, get honked at, and blame it on the other driver.
  • Someone we love dies, and we blame their doctors for not doing enough.

In order to refrain from these almost automatic reactions as we get older, we have to learn to self regulate. Some people never do, and end up blaming and shaming their way through life anytime they experience distress or disappointment. 

In addition, kids are not immediately aware of their feelings and need to be taught this through something called emotion coaching.  From the research I did in emotion coaching, I developed what I call the Triple Say Strategy and used it with my kids during most of their younger years. It’s an amazing tool to teach empathy and circumvent the blame/shame response when you use it consistently. 

Here’s how it works:

1. Stay calm. Your child feels like it’s an emergency because they live in the moment and don’t think about their thinking or their feelings. Your calm attitude communicates that there’s no emergency, and this provides a safe space for them to process.

2. Say what you See (name the circumstance & emotion). Look at your child’s face and say exactly what you see: “Oh no, you look so disappointed. Your block tower fell over!” Or: “You are so upset, you don’t want to start over now.”   Wait for a response and then move to step three.

3. Say what you Hear (reflective listening + more empathy). Your child responds with, “It’s not fair! My block tower fell apart and it’s all brother’s fall because he distracted me!” You say what you hear:  “yes, you really think it’s brother’s fault.  You felt distracted and bumped your block tower. I hear how disappointed you are. You don’t like it when your block tower falls apart and you have to start all over. You really wish brother had not walked so close to you when you are trying to build. I hear how frustrating that is.”  

You might have to repeat step three by saying what you hear several times and in several different ways.  Slowly, the emotions and tears will pass in your child will call. As soon as this happens move to step three.

4. Say what you want (action replay or directive)Now’s the time to coach and train.  Tell your child what you would like for him to do and then ask him to try again with that response. For example: “now I’d like to encourage you that it’s okay to be as mad as you want, but it’s not okay to be mean and blame other people for things that we are responsible for.  No yelling at mommy or brother. Let’s try again. You can say, “I’m really disappointed that my blocks fell over and I’m so mad I have to start again! I don’t like it when this happens!”  

Instead of telling kids what they can’t do, it’s always best to tell them what they can do. Therefore, it’s important to give your child the words to speak when they are young, best to start as early as possible. They don’t have the vocabulary to automatically express themselves, and they need you to give them examples of what they can say when they try again.

5. Teach repair. Later, when he’s no longer hurting, you can say to your son: “You were pretty upset when your block tower tumbled, etc., When you told your brother it was all his fault, that really hurt his feelings…I wonder how you can make things better with your brother?”

Would love to know how this works for your family! Shoot me a message anytime!



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