Introducing your child to the world is a delicate matter. There is so much to learn and so much exposure to information, obstacles and people that letting go of the reigns is at times, impossible. You teach your child the right way to cross the street. To never talk to strangers. To look out for danger. To always take the morale high ground in school.
As the years pass, my children who I have nurtured and held close, yearn for life outside of my control. New toys, going to a friends for tea, new tastes, attending birthday parties and of course, the latest must have gadgets.
It is impossible to hide your child from the world. It is big, loud, harmful and it is there. My wife and I have tried to instigate simple steps to maintain control over what appears to be very basic child needs – more on this tomorrow – but for now I need to focus on one very delicate matter that arose less than 5 hours after my very first blog, “The child conspiracy”.
Until this day I believed with hand on heart, that my sons were well versed in telling the truth. Their big brown eyes and cherub looks represented deeper angelic people who would always do right. On this day in history I encountered a new dark side of my children that shattered my deep routed opinions. My children do lie. They will preserve themselves and they will always seek to gain personal favour at all cost.
A Watergate affair
This could apply in any given situation, but today was a deeper instant conspiracy involving no fewer than four children. All of whom I have held within the first days of their births and whom I have loved unconditionally. Two of them my own, two close nieces and nephews – or so I thought were close…
Totally unprepared, I entered the fray. The living room, where all children were playing online together on separate devices. Something all parents categorically stated was not to happen due to safety. Yet somehow, the children ranging from 4 years to 9 years, managed to disable the parental settings, download AND engage in team gaming.
I approached with a simple question, “guys, how did you manage to get online?” It took all but 3 seconds for them all to begin talking and deny all knowledge. Each of them mirroring each others version of events. With every question came another twist and with every twist, another confused adult. It was a long drawn out investigation and instantly I thought about my first blog and questioned, ‘what would Dad do?’
I went to work on a plan of attack, while each child effortlessly bamboozled a parent. I noticed quickly that grandma was not party to any of this and for a very good reason. She was simply letting it all unfold and like a great detective was about to swoop in and solve the mystery. “Not on my watch”, I thought to myself. “time for Dad to step up”. An hour later, I was just as flummoxed, but I eventually came away with some good techniques to take forward:
- Don’t shout, Listen. Kids know immediately that deviation can be sort by parents shouting and that tears and tantrums will give a route of escape. Never shout. Smile, ask the question and listen to each and every child/ comment.
- Stick to the question. Try to ask no more than 5 simple questions. Remember their age and understanding. You may need to repeat the same questions, but a total of 5 varied questions should be enough. Remember, kids will twist and turn to avoid answering, but repeating often unfolds the lie.
- Be calm at all cost. Any good cop will tell you that breathing and control is key. Take a step back and let the child know they are not in trouble. Be calm, controlled and gain their confidence.
- The blame game. Even in open conversation, a child will leap between being loyal to another and completely dropping someone else in it. Their aim is to stay out of trouble. Don’t rise to blame. Your quest is to understand the most likely truth given the information and evidence presented.
- Voice your hypothesis. Put your version of events to the child or group. This often causes panic but gets results. The child who often agrees immediately usually has no conception of what happened, while the child that challenges is usually the innocent. The silent, hesitant child is often the one who played a part.
- Divide and conquer. split those little toe rags up. Question separately and out of ear shot of the main group (if there is one). They will soon panic.
- Have an incentive. We all want to believe our child will do the right thing, but cut corners with a prize or reward for telling the truth, where the truth is hard to come by. for a group conspiracy, look to reward everyone. This goes back to ‘divide and conquer’.
- Follow a consequence through. ALWAYS follow through with a punishment that fits the crime. If you don’t, you’ve lost any future advantage. Be realistic and clear of the consequences. Never threaten physical harm or cut your nose off to spite your face. For example, “you will not be going to grandmas EVER AGAIN”. What is the point – are you seriously never going to see your family again? Start small and build up. Never throw all your chips in with the first hand. This is a game you could be playing until they leave home!
How bad was it really?
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been drawn into an argument over something trivial. I’ve become unreasonable, stubborn and lost my way. could it be better to just to challenge, take away a privilege and walk away?
What Dad would have done?
Back in the day I would have been put under the spotlight. Stood in the centre of the room, questioned and threatened with ‘consequences’ that rarely happened. A couple of failed favourites included:
- swearing on the bible. Scary as any threat, but why bring god into it? Depending on your child’s mindset and your family views, religion is supposed to be a safe place if that’s what you subscribe to. Using it as a threat is just wrong. Surely it would have been better to open the book and read a passage? Regardless of your views, there are some good lessons in the books of pretty much any religion.
- The police, priest or a teacher. I was even taken to a building and told it was a home for dis-functional kids. This plain failed and I even got excited about leaving home! As with religion, you are just alienating something that you want your kids to be safe with. Don’t create fear of public or religious servants – you will need them one day.
- physical violence. “if I find out you are lying, I will slap your legs”. NEVER hit your child. You are now alienating yourself as a parent and will never have your child’s confidence again. I was threatened with the slipper at times. Quite light for the days where the cane was used at school and other kids I heard of getting the belt. This creates fear and fear leads to more self preservation. Your child will become well versed in lying and you will never gain the truth of anything. EVER!
Whatever the lie, always put it into context. Don’t get me wrong, lying is awful, but was the particular lie really that bad?
Disappointment is usually enough and just because there may not be an instant response, you can guarantee your child knows the severity of what they have done and will likely think twice next time.
Always talk to your child on a level playing field. Best thing my mum ever did was sit me and my sister down with strawberry sundaes after my sister let me take the blame for a flood in the bathroom. Mum joked with us both and tested my sister, telling her how funny she had been blaming me. Before she knew it my sister sang like a canary. She laughed about her plan to stick towels down the toilet and bragged of her every move. The Sundae was moved to me and my sister sent to bed.
That technique was played out many times by mum and dad, but that day when my sister was 5 and I was 6 or 7 has stayed with me for over the years. And yes, it works on my kids too.
Thank you Mum for the technique and thank you Dad for adopting it in place of the bible and slipper.
Tip of the day
Ban hand held devices, TV and phones from the dinner table and eat with your kids at the table. You’ll learn a lot about each other and they will see your face instead of the growing bald patch on the top of your head. Ignore the mess they make with their food. They are in the process of learning table etiquette and what foods are good from watching you.
Here are some great sites I’ve used through work and home life: