It's About Them

Young People … Our Greatest Resource

Don’t Blame the Thermometer

I have put quotes from a lot of folks on this blog, mostly quotes from folks you’d know just from their name. Well, this time I want to try one. It involves a topic that’s been on my mind for the last few weeks:

Blaming a child for the problems of a poorly functioning family or classroom is like blaming a thermometer for the weather. –James Sutton

 Unfortunately, I have sat through meetings in my office or at a parent conference at school and have heard a parent (or a teacher in some cases) blame their every problem on the child. And, as often as not, the child was present when this was shared.

If they say these things about the child and to that youngster  in your presence, what on earth is going on at home?

Unfortunately, I think it happens a lot, this emotional abuse that can cut so deeply. In thinking about it, I’m really amazed that kids turn out as well as they do.

Here’s the sad part. What if a child begins to believe it? What if a youngster starts to believe that they are the source of all the misery in this world? (Those of you who work in this business know I’m not exaggerating here.)

If they hear it enough, why wouldn’t they believe it?

I once worked with a 14-year-old boy who came to live in a group home simply because his new stepmom hated him. She stayed on his case until one day he did mess up behaviorally. That was the opening she needed to ship him out.

He was a good young man, and I was fortunate to work with him at the group home. He was assigned to a great cottage with other boys, where he grew and developed into a very decent, kind and responsible person. But he retained a tiny bit of that “I’m a piece of crud” thinking his stepmom had insisted on pounding into him.

Just after he arrived at the group home his grandmother was at the point of death. The stepmom would not come and take him to see her, nor would she allow her husband (his father) to do it. So someone from the children’s home took him to see his grandmother one more time.

I’m told her face lit up when she saw him come through the door. I’m also told that she held onto his hand, called him by name, and told him that the problem with his stepmother was not his fault. She then gestured toward the staff member from the children’s home that had driven him to the hospital and said, “These people care about you, and they will always tell you the truth. Believe them.”

It was like he had been cut free from a dungeon. He really grew from that point. One of the lucky ones, huh?

My guess is that the stepmom was damaged as a child herself. Few people aspire to be a hateful and spiteful person. It just happens. (And my guess is, if you took a “hard” approach at working with her, she would push back just as hard.)

Good or bad, kids accurately reflect with their behavior much of the state of their tiny chunk of the world. But they’re only the thermometer.  They don’t make the weather.

James Sutton, Psychologist


August 25, 2007 - Posted by | adversity, Counselors, Difficult Child, Educators, family, Inspirational, Parents, Self-esteem


  1. Sadly true and wise words. We know not the damage that we inflict. May we all become more aware.


    Comment by tobeme | August 27, 2007 | Reply

  2. Despite the intrinsic risks, another fine case of human progress ‘simply’ achieved through the reciprocal, respectful, responsive, reasonable, response to your negotiated responsbilities.

    Thank you for sharing another inspiring example of reality trumping denial through the illuminating application of kind, constructive, optimistic words.

    Big sigh of relief and back to work.

    Thank you.


    Comment by Conciously Living | August 27, 2007 | Reply

  3. Dr. Sutton, this was a great post. I’ve added it to my psych bloggers tour.


    Comment by GM Roper | September 2, 2007 | Reply

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