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The Blame Game

Sue Donas of Montclair, NJ, was livid when she found her daughter Arianna, 3, and a friend scribbling on Arianna's bedroom walls. When Donas asked, "Whose idea was this?" each girl pointed to the other and said, "Hers."

Sometime between the ages of 3 and 4, kids wise up to the fact that when they do something wrong, they can put the blame on someone else. "They learn that they can fool people," says Tempe-based Arizona State University psychology professor Keith Crnic, Ph.D. To discourage finger-pointing:

Make it okay to 'fess up. Try saying, "I believe you did it, but let's not worry about that. Let's talk about how it happened and what we can do about it." This shifts the focus away from who's to blame and makes it easier for kids to own up to what they did.

Suggest an action plan. Once your child has admitted her guilt, say to her, "Next time you do something you think Mommy won't like, come tell me and we can fix it together." When she follows through, let her know that while you're displeased about what's happened, you're also proud that she found the courage to bring the problem to your attention.

If you have time, get out the cleaning supplies and let her help you wipe away the scribbles  -- even if it's a lost cause. She'll see it's not so bad to come clean.