I have 2 kids. 4.5 and 2.5 years old

I see crayons on the wall or some juice spilled some where or somethiing else. I understand they're kids and it's expected. I help them clean up afterwars or sometimes we just do the cleaning ourselves.

I just wonder should I ask them "Who did it?/ Did you do it?"

The reason I'm not so sure is that today when I asked them, each said the other one did it. Ultimately my little one admitted that he did it.

My concern is that I don't want to make them each other's enemies, nor I want them be thinking that they could redirect the blame to the other one and get out of it.

90% of the time they take the blame, apologize and try to make it right, but I'm just starting to think me asking may not be the best idea.

I don't know what I should do as an alternative though. I ask because I then use that answer to ask my child to clean up after their mess. Or should I just make this a team effort and that we all should clean? But then it could come to a point where one of takes advantage of the other...

3 Answers 3


I would refrain from that question. If that's your first response, your children will pick that up as the most important component in the event that has taken place, and I can see how that would steer them towards an "It wasn't me" type of reaction, as opposed to, say, "I didn't mean to", if focus would've been placed on intention rather than blame.

"What happened here" is a phrase I'd prefer, which shifts focus away from blame, but the answer to which will in most cases convey that information as well.

If they are truly apologetic, they'll apologize, and you'll have your answer, if you still think it's valuable information. If they aren't, then finding out who is to blame only so that you can get a coerced apology is of no value, if you ask me. If you don't know who is to blame - or if you can figure it out, but it's not explicit so you have to behave as though it was an unknown - and you still want to have a talk with the responsible person as to why it was a bad thing to do, you'll simply have that discussion with both of them. That'll be a talk where nobody feels like accused of anything, so I think you'll even find that they are more prone to listen and won't just go into defense in these talks.

  • +1. I totally agree. When I came upon a mess or mishap, my reaction was usually, "Oh, what happened here?" The truth usually came out immediately because there was no fear involved, just maybe a bit of problem solving. Lying, on the other hand, was met with ... a 'lecture' and maybe even a consequence. But I don't remember that happening when the kids were young. (When they were older, one became rather deceptive.) Commented Apr 21, 2020 at 15:12

I don't tend to focus on blame (and have children of a similar distance apart); that leads to the children fighting over blame, both trying to avoid any consequences and just acting as a distraction. If I know which child did something, then I ask that child to help clean up; if I don't, then I ask the children together to help clean up. Teaching them that cleaning up a common mess is a common responsibility I think is a great thing, and something I wish I'd been more effective at when my children were younger.


The question to ask is does finding out who did it help in any way? The only reason I can see it being particularly useful is if you punish the child who caused the mess. But that will just discourage the child from admitting fault, encourage them to lie, and possibly to blame the other, which are not the outcomes that you want.

Finding out why the mess happened is useful. Then you can talk to both children about how to avoid it "sit down while drinking", "tidy up so we don't trip while carrying things" etc. Obviously avoid lecturing them, but a brief conversation, without singling one child out, is beneficial for everyone. In terms of spilt juice, I would suggest having some cleaning supplies available so that they can clean up themselves, explaining the danger of slipping. Then they can tell you once they have already fixed the problem to the best of their ability, which should be met with praise (and a quick check for slip hazards).

So in short, if you know who caused the mess, it makes sense to have them be the one to clean it up (with your help if necessary). If you don't know the cause, it makes sense to get both children involved in cleaning up 'everyone messes', while doing the best you can to reduce the mess from happening again.

In terms of crayon on the wall, your child/ren may find it interesting to write/draw on paper that's vertical rather than horizontal. It may be worth investing in an easel, or you could tape paper to the wall (with cardboard backing if there is a risk of the drawing medium bleeding through to your wall).

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