So we pepper the kid with questions that don't really have good answers while the kid clings to any aspect of the story that may somehow get him off the hook. Then..... they start talking. That's when things get interesting. You get a story that has no real beginning or end with plot twists that not only catch you off guard, but have absolutely nothing to do with anything that's ever happened. Your kid is in trouble for hitting with a shoe and you're talking about just about everything but that.
When the conversation gets cloudy like this, you're in trouble. It's probably not going to end where you want it to. The more the kid talks you away from his actions the less likely he is to make a connection when you implement a consequence. Here's what I mean.... if you're talking to a child about something that just happened and find yourself sifting through stories that don't really connect with what you're discussing, the kid is now taking you on a wild ride through Blamesville and my guess is that by the end of it he will have convinced himself that he's only in trouble because some other kid did something wrong or because you're mean. You will have made whatever connection needed to be made, but the kid didn't follow you because he talked himself off the map completely.
You may tell me, "I'm fine. Even when he talks the story all over the place I know what he did wrong and that's what he gets in trouble for." Great, but you're not the one I'm worried about. Your kid is confusing himself and is far less likely to connect the consequence to his actions when he's spent 5 minutes digging for things that someone else did wrong.
I'm here to help. This is something I do with kids on a regular basis and lately, I've used it with a few adults (but we'll get to that later). It's one of the simplest things I do. I keep a stack of dry erase boards in my office. They're 12 inch by 12 inch squares so big enough to be seen but small enough to avoid being intrusive. As a child is telling me a story about something that got them in trouble, I quietly hand them a dry erase board and marker. Then before they get too far into the story, I ask them to draw a circle.
Child: We were at lunch and Billy took my seat
Me: Ok. So Billy took your seat. Where should that go on the board?
Child: Outside the circle.
Me: Ok, then what?
Child: I told him to move
Me: Ok, where should that go?
Me: Then what?
Child: He didn't move so I pushed him out of the seat
Me: Ok. He didn't move, where should that go?
Me: And how about you pushing him?
Me: Then what?
Child: Then Mrs. Johnson came over and told me to sit down (Child puts this outside the circle.... usually by this point the kid has picked up on the process and I don't have to keep asking where things should go.) And I told her that he stole my seat (puts that inside) but she wouldn't listen (outside) so I went to go sit on the stage (inside). She told me to come back (outside) but I didn't (inside).
If we've done it right we should have something that looks like this...
Next we go one by one through the inner circle items and only the inner circle items. If the child ventures into an outer item, assure them you'll get to it after the inner circle ones are complete. So what are we doing here? We're talking through the child's actions without the opportunity for them to blame shift.
As you go one by one through the inner circle, you ask the child if this was a good choice or something they could have done differently. If it was good, put a star next to it and leave it (I star the good choices because even in the midst of a series of stupid moves, it's not uncommon for a kid to do a few things right. I don't want to lose those). If it was bad, talk through better choices they could have made. When they come up with something, draw a line through the old choice (but don't erase it) and write the new choice next to it.
When you've made your way through the inner circle, get to the outer circle but give it a small fraction of the time you gave the inner. In essence, I want you to acknowledge everything outside the circle and validate his frustration by saying that you wish people would make better choices. However.... reassure the child that he is NOT in trouble for ANYTHING that happened outside the circle. No one's actions placed him in trouble except his own. If you'd like to go through the outer circle items and ask him how he could have handled it better you certainly can, but you've kind of done that already. What will be more beneficial is talking through how his actions may have led to some of those outer items while also acknowledging that some didn't. This kid didn't have any say over Billy taking his seat, but he needs to know how to handle that situation.
The first time you do this with a kid it may take a while for them to get it. Be patient. Once you've done it once or twice they'll be able to fly through the process and the hope is that eventually they won't need the circle at all. Here's the theme to reiterate whenever possible... The things that get kids in trouble are the inner circle actions. It's crucial that you drive that point home.
One important note: this technique is not the consequence. Once you've talked through the circle it's important to be consistent with whatever the appropriate consequence is for a given action. The point here is to help them identify the role they play in their situation with the ultimate goal of making better choices.... not to let a kid draw a circle and assume he's learned his lesson. This is a support tool, not a solution tool.
I mentioned using this with adults. I had a mom in my office recently who really struggled to see her own child's actions. She blame shifted constantly. It was never the child it was the other kid, the teacher, the principal, the devil, the taliban, whoever. I eventually decided to use the circle technique with her. For the first time since we'd met, we were talking about the actions of her child. When she actually saw the visual, something clicked. She softened and was ready to be honest about what was going on. She didn't have to agree with me about anything else but she couldn't argue with me about what was getting him in trouble and who's actions they really were.
I love this technique because it's a visual tool to address a daily struggle. Kids tend to stay with visuals. Talking through this stuff without the aid of a visual is asking too much of a kid. They can't track all of this and make the connections without help. Once they get used to it you'll be amazed at how they respond to it. Adjust it however you need to for the purposes of your kid, just remember the principle. Kids need help recognizing the impact of their own actions. They need to be trained to not blame the rest of humanity when they find themselves in trouble. You're the parent. Help them figure it out. Help them see that if they're in a hole they're probably holding a shovel.