Our job as parents is to teach. I have talked about looking at yourself as a coach in your child’s life. How we react and respond to them begins to shape their behavior. It will also shape the relationship we build with them.
Let’s start with a discussion about how we typically react to something unpleasant when dealing with adults.
Alan, as an example. I don’t know whether you share a checking account or not, but if you did and your girlfriend spend what you both would consider a lot of money on an outfit…what would your reaction be?
I can tell you what mine used to be: “YOUR KIDDING! HOW COULD YOU SPEND THAT MUCH. WE CAN’T AFFORD IT.”
or another example: Your wife says: “I was at the store and this guy asked me out.”
I would have probably responded with “you told him you were married, right? What were you doing that he thought it was ok to do that?”
If you don’t want to know these things, then certainly you can say that. But if you wanted to keep communication lines with your wife open and you don’t want lies or things being done behind your back, how you react is important.
This is how children learn to lie. They quickly figure out that if they tell the truth, they get in trouble. So they think they are avoiding getting in trouble by lying.
So let’s go over a few situations that could happen with kids and how I would suggest to react to it.
1) Lying – Whether you catch your child in the lie or they come clean, both of them offer the opportunity to teach. In our house for example we have always said: “If you tell the truth, you won’t get in trouble,” Although my children quickly learned in our house we really don’t do punishment (as we also don’t do rewards).
If your child comes clean from a lie, the best way to respond is to say “Thank you for telling me. I really appreciate it. How do you think you could have handled that differently?
If there is a natural consequence from the lie, then ok. But there really isn’t a good reason to punish them. They will only learn to be better liers. It’s not going to keep them from lying next time.
2) Bad Grades – Another common scenario is a child coming home with grades that you are not happy with. The normal response is they either get grounded for bad grades or parents try to reward their kids for good grades. I am against this.
The grades are for them not you. If your child is not doing well in school, (talking about younger children), they either have learning challenges or they need to be parented differently. You may need to spend more time with them, talk to their teacher, and figure out what is going on.
As they get older, the theme that “it is for them” needs to be re-inforced. Offer help instead of punishment.
3) Got in trouble at school. Sometimes you have to let natural consequences happen. They get detention or some other punishment from school. But punishing them at home as well isn’t going to help. You want to first understand why it’s happening and then provide support on how it can be fixed or avoided the next time.
4) Drinking or smoking. Here is a scenario: your 16 or 17 year old child comes to you and says, “Dad I was at a party last night and I tried alcohol”. Most dads fly off the handle and explain how this doesn’t happen in their house and how they are underaged, etc. Usually followed by some yelling.
The best way to handle this is to first say, “I really appreciate you coming to me and trusting me”. Then it’s an honest discussion about first them knowing you don’t agree with it or approve it, but they make their own decisions.”
Something to the effect of, “my job as a parent is to help you learn how to make decisions for yourself. You are going to be faced with some really difficult challenges. People are going to be offering you drinks, drugs, and other things. You then have to make the decision for yourself and your health. If you are ever in a scenario you want to get out of, feel unsafe, or make a huge mistake, call me and I will come get you.
When we get upset at news or information that they tell us, it makes them not want to tell us the next time. You don’t have to agree or endorse it, but more trying to understand what happened, where they are coming from, or more importantly how to avoid it the next time.