Mar 15, 2011
What If My Child Lies?

About a year ago, I met a woman who had come to me to discuss her concerns regarding her 14-year-old daughter. Miri, the mother told me, had lied to her.

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman - N'shei Chabad Newsletter

Nothing much shocks me these days.

Over the course of more than 30 years of working with families, I’ve heard almost everything. But every now and then, someone will say something to me that leaves me speechless, albeit briefly.

About a year ago, I met a woman who had come to me to discuss her concerns regarding her 14-year-old daughter.

Miri, the mother told me, had lied to her. Our ensuing conversation went something like this:

What gives you the impression that Miri lied to you?

I know for sure that she lied to me, it’s not an impression. Her teacher called me and said that Miri hadn’t brought in her homework for a full week. This was three days after I asked Miri why she wasn’t doing any math homework.

She said that the teacher let them do all their work in class so she could check it right away.

I see. So the teacher called, and then it was clear that Miri lied.
Then what happened
?

Nothing yet. I came here to ask you how to punish her.

Those last words are exactly what she said to me, verbatim, and I was speechless. The primary role of parents is to help children succeed. I do not believe it is the role of parents to punish children for failing, unless it is the kind of “punishment” which will result in future success.

Much of the time, punishment does not help children succeed; it just helps them get better at hiding their failures so they won’t get punished again. Miri did lie. What was her mother’s reaction? What did she hope to accomplish by punishing Miri?

Sitting in my office that day, all I knew was that the mother wanted to punish Miri, but so far she hadn’t.

I needed more complete and accurate information. Our conversation continued: And after you got off the phone with the teacher, what did you think about what you heard?

I thought that Miri lied to me to get out of doing her math homework.

And when you thought that, what was that like for you?

I felt like she was trying to get away with something.

Yes, and when you thought she was trying get away with something, what was that like for you?

Well, I really felt that she can’t just ignore homework, and I felt that she should be punished for trying to.

Right, you thought that she should not ignore her homework, and you wanted to punish her for trying to deceive you about her homework. And what was all that like for you?
Were you disappointed in Miri, resentful that she would try to do something behind your back, worried that she didn’t tell you the truth, angry at her for lying?


Until now, the mother had been quite animated in our conversation, speaking rapidly and without pause. Now she was silent. I was speechless again but this time out of respect for her, as she was clearly making a sincere effort to organize her thoughts and articulate her feelings.

I think at first I was resentful. I took it as an affront that she would lie to me, but now that you made me think about it some more, I feel bad. I wish Miri had come to me when something was bothering her rather than lying to me about it. I know she’s not lazy. After all, she does all her other homework. Why didn’t she tell me that she was having trouble with math? Why would she hide that from me?

Those are good questions. What do you think Miri will say to you when you ask her?

I don’t know. I don’t even know how to confront her with the fact that she lied to me to begin with.

Miri did lie. She had told her mother that she had no math homework for the past two weeks, when, in fact, she did. Her mother was not reacting based on inaccurate information.

In Pirkei Avos it is written, Al tehidan yechidi—don’t be the sole judge. The Ben Ish Chai explains that you should not rely on your initial interpretation of what you see or hear—try to confirm the information, make sure you understand correctly.

When Miri’s mother was confronted with the fact that her daughter had lied, she came tome first to discuss the matter. Do you confront a child who has lied to you, and if so, when, where, and how?

How? Gently.

When? When you’re calm and not pressured.

It is written in Pirkei Avos, al teratzeh es chavercha b’shaas kaaso—Do not attempt to appease your friend while he is angry—or when you are angry with him!

Wait until both of you are calm before initiating the discussion.

Where? Someplace where there is privacy, and some place where you will not be interrupted or distracted by anyone or anything.

It may not be that hard to figure out where to go for some private time and it may not be that hard to carve out those few minutes. It can be very hard to be gentle and calm when you’re feeling betrayed and aren’t sure whether you should have trusted this child before or can ever trust her again.

The mother had no way of knowing how many times Miri might have lied to her before and gotten away with it. And as long as there was that doubt, it would be very difficult for her to calmly confront her daughter about the lying.

It sounds like you want Miri to tell you about all the times she has lied to you in the past. If she were to tell you, what would you say to her?

I would tell her that I’m disappointed in her, and that I thought she knew better. I would tell her that she shouldn’t have lied, because now I don’t trust her.

And what do you think she’ll say to you when you tell her that?

She’ll probably say that now that I don’t trust her anyway, why shouldn’t she lie even more?

And what will you say to her then?

I don’t know. I feel so stuck and confused.

I’m sure the mother wished that Miri had never lied to her in the past. I am equally sure that she can’t go back in time to undo that. I explained to her that it might be very helpful for her to express her disappointment and resent-ment, but to express it in terms of how bad she feels, not how bad Miri is to have lied.

Then, I suggested a question she could ask Miri: What do you imagine Miri will say to you when you ask her, “Miri, what do you think would’ve hap-pened had you told me the truth?”

I never thought of asking her that. I don’t know what she would say.

That’s fair. Please let me know what she says to you. I think it’ll be very helpful for both of you.

But what if she answers me and I don’t know what to say back to her?

I would suggest that if that happens, you say to her, “Miri, I’m not sure what to say to you. Let me think about it, and, G-d willing, we’ll continue our conversation later.”

A week later, the mother and I continued our conversation: Miri said that she thought that if she told me the truth, I would criticize her, and that’s why she lied to me. I said, “And that makes it okay to lie?”And she said, “Just like you’re criticizing me right now, that’s why I don’t even try to talk to you, and I wish you wouldn’t try to talk to me.”

After recounting this to me, Miri’s mother looked me in the eye and said, “Can’t I ever criticize her when she does something wrong?”

It’s not wrong to criticize a child. But there is a right way to do it. Praise and criticism are not opposites; they are actually closely interrelated.

For example, when you say to a child, “You did very well on that test, but if you had studied a little more you could have done better,” the critical part of the sentence cancels out the praise that preceded it. That happens because ofthe word “but,” which serves to minimize or eliminate the value of what came before it. The way to give praise is to say, “You did very well on that test, and if you study a little more you might do even better next time!”

Try saying those two sentences out loud and you’ll hear the difference. When you criticize a child, even in a constructive manner, you are pointing out something that you wish the child would do better. There are two different ways your child can interpret this. One is to say to herself, “I am still not good enough.”

The other is to say to herself, “I am good and my father would like me to do even better next time.”

How do you know which one of those your child is going to be thinking? Rashi points out (Shmos 20:6, KiSisa 34:7) that the correct ratio of praise to criticism is 500 to 1.

Every time you praise your child, you inform him that he does things well. When you criticize him, you imply that he sometimes does not do as well as you would wish. On your child’s internal balance sheet, each praise is added to his asset list, and every criticism is recorded as a liability. If you criticize him more often than you praise him, his balance sheet shows a net liability. You can’t see his balance sheet, but you can see his look of discouragement and apprehension when you begin to say something to him, because he’s afraid he’s going to be criticized again.

If you praise him more often than you criticize him, he has a safety net of assets which serve as a cushion against the pain of failure. The higher the ratio of praise to criticism that he has experienced from you, the larger and stronger that cushion will be. The child in whom you have built a strong cushion of praise will hear criticism as encouragement to do better next time, not another reminder of how poorly he usually does.

Getting back to Miri’s mother...I think Miri finds it very painful when you criticize her, but that does not mean it’s not okay for you ever to criticize her. You can help Miri become less uncomfortable with your criticism. The way to do that is to praise her -- honestly, of course —more often.

I suggest that you buy a notebook, and on the cover write, “Miri’s Nachas Notebook.” Over the course of the coming week, I suggest that you notice things Miri does or says that you can perceive as successful. Each time Miri does something well, praise her by saying, “You did that really well,” or, “Miri, that was so very thoughtful of you.”

Sometimes be more specific. Say, “You set the table for Shabbos really nicely!” or “The baby has been so happy ever since you picked her up!”

Each time you notice and acknowledge her success, write in Miri’s Nachas Notebook what she did and how you acknowledged her success. What do you think about that?

I think Miri is going to make a face, like she thinks it’s weird.

Nevertheless, try to tolerate that and continue to praise Miri and record the nachas notes in her notebook.

One week later, I spoke with Miri’s mother again.

She said: I really thought Miri didn’t like my praising her and writing down her successes in the Nachas Notebook that she insisted I show her. She rolled her eyes on Monday and sighed loudly on Tuesday, so on Wednesday and Thursday when I acknowledged some things that she did, I didn’t write anything down. On Friday, Miri gave me a shy smile and said, “Mom, you’re not writing notes about me anymore? It was actually kind of nice.”

I’ve learned that most children (and adults), even 13-year-olds like Miri, enjoy being noteworthy.

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman, LMHC, isthe Director of Parent Mentoring for Agudath Israel’s Project YES. He has worked with hundreds of parents from around the world. He also works with educators in 18 schools offering guidance on how to effectively connect with children. Rabbi Ackerman has a private practice specializing in family, couples, parenting, and pre-marital counseling, and can be reachedat 718-344-6575.

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All is true that its better to praise, etc, but a parent will loose trust in a child that lies to his parents, its a fact
(10/26/2011 1:11:21 AM)
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