Friday, July 15, 2011

My daughter lies and steals

Questioner: Elizabeth



Subject: My daughter lies and steals

Question: Hello. I am having some serious problems with my daughter, who is almost 12 years old. I have read Kjirstin's answer to Sapphire on this same subject, but my situation seems different. I have 3 children (a 12 year old son and a 1 year old son round out the kids). From the time they were little, my husband and I have always tried to instill a sense of right and wrong in the kids.

We have what we call our "3 Rules" (the biggies), which are: No Lying, No Hitting Each Other, Respect Your Elders. We constantly try to stress these as the main rules. Of course, we have other rules (such as do your chores on time, give your schoolwork your best effort, etc.) and my husband and I try to set the best example possible. We spanked the two older ones when they were younger, but never in anger, never to excess and we always tried other punishments first.


As each child turned 11, we spoke with them at length about punishments and behaviour and explained that we felt they were too old for spanking as any form of discipline. We have always tried to keep good communication between ourselves and our children and my husband and I always try to present a united front. We're certainly not saints and I'm sure we've made plenty of mistakes over the years, but we have tried to take the best of the parenting we received from our own childhoods and apply it with our own children.

It seems like we have always had problems with Jessica being less than truthful, but over the years, some form of punishment (taking away privileges, taking away the computer or TV or radio, spanking, etc.) would usually curb the behaviour for a while (sometimes for a month or more, sometimes for a few days or weeks), but nothing has stopped it completely.

Over the past couple of years, her lying has steadily gotten worse. She not only lies about big things, she lies about little things, too, almost as if she is trying to see if she can get away with it. I'm sure that she's gotten away with enough lies over the years that it encourages her. She constantly lies, about things like whether or not she brushed her teeth, if she fed her animals, if she put on deodorant, if she did all of her homework, if she picked up something that belonged to her brothers or father or me, if she stole money out of my purse or my husband's wallet or her brother's wallet, if she destroyed something, and more, both big and small. Always, always when we catch her in a lie, there is some form of punishment. Sometimes, it seems like she never gets to watch TV or play on the computer or go outside or whatever.

Lately (for the past year or so), she has been adding stealing to her routine. First, it started out small, with just taking a toy from her brother or something. Usually, her punishment would be an immediate loss of privileges or loss of riding her bike or something like that, plus she would have to return the item and apologize. Last year, she escalated to stealing items from other kids at school. When she got caught for that, she had a mark put on her permanent record, she had in-school suspension and her punishment at
school was to write a letter of apology to the child (she stole his prescription eyeglasses). We had to pay for them, so she also had additional chores to make up for the money.

When this didn't work and she stole from another child at school, she got a spanking and again had to go through school punishment. (By the way, this was the last spanking she received, as she turned 11 about a month after this incident). It was during this time that she stole money from both her father's wallet and then from my purse. A few months earlier, she had taken money from her brother. After this time, we thought that our talks with her and her various punishments (from both the school and home) made enough of an impression with her that she realized how wrong her behaviour was. The stealing, at least, seemed to stop, but she continued to lie about (and get caught) big and small things. The last stealing incident at school happened in Jan. 2007, while she was in 5th grade.

About 3 weeks ago, she was caught at the store shoplifting. She was released to me and the store manager told me that she was no longer allowed in the store unless she was by my side the whole time. I had been in the store at the time, but she and her older brother were off looking at magazines and toys.

She was not with her older brother at the time. After this incident, we again had a long, serious talk with her about how wrong stealing is. We allowed her to pick part of her punishment (we have done this in the past with some success; she knows that her punishment has to be appropriate to the misbehaviour) and she decided that since she had stolen something that didn't belong to her, she should give up something that did belong to her.

She also was taken off of electronics (this has been the most consistently effective punishment over the past 3 or 4 years with her). Also, this time, we had her research and write an essay on why stealing is wrong and how it impacts society. Yes, we were at the end of our rope and, since nothing else had stopped her from stealing, we thought this might have some positive effect.

We have tried and tried to impart on her that stealing is wrong and lying is wrong. Lately, I have begun to think that there might be nothing we can do to make her stop stealing and lying. She has never seemed to care if she gets caught, she only seems to care when she loses privileges or when she receives some other form of punishment. We are at a loss and cannot seem to get through to her about this. We have talked to her, we have punished her, she has received discipline through the school, nothing, nothing, nothing seems to work. She just keeps on with this behaviour. We have tried everything we can think of, but it hasn't had an impact on her.

Today, her assistant principal called me and said that she had been caught stealing lip gloss from another student. When first confronted about it, she lied to them and said it wasn't her, then finally admitted the truth. She has received another permanent mark on her record and she has a 1-day in-
school suspension. the assistant principal made her apologize to the girl and return the lip gloss.

What do I do? How do we get it through to her that these are not the habits and behaviours that are found in respectable society? Why does she do this? She never really has an answer as to why, no matter how much we press, her answer is usually either "I don't know" or "I wanted it".

Amazingly enough, in all other areas, she is a fantastic person. She gets along with everyone, she's friendly and polite and respectful. Other than the lying and stealing, we seem to have a really good relationship with her.

However, she's getting to the age where the public ramifications for stealing are going to become more severe. How do we keep her from lying? From stealing? From ending up in jail? Why is she like this? Please, we are so desperate. What can we do? Thank you very much.

Answer: Dear Elizabeth:

I really don't believe you will like my answer. However, my job is not to tell people the things they want to hear it is so tell them what I know based upon my 20+ years of professional experience and my education. You won't like the first couple of paragraphs however be patient I have solutions in the following paragraphs.

People lie for one reason. They are AFRAID of the consequences of not lying, they are reinforced for lying and it pays for them to lie. Think about why you lie when you lied. You are either afraid of being embarrassed or fear the consequences of telling the truth.

This posting describes a very negative engagement between your daughter and yourself. I did not see one time when something was mentioned in a positive light about her or your history with her.

I need to tell you that I do not at anytime prescribe to spanking children as it is violence against a child by a full grown adult. Spanking breeds FEAR in children and this is not RESPECT. Spanking a child when an adult is not angry is even worse because it is premeditated and without emotion. BESIDES RESEARCH SHOWS IT DOES NOT WORK. Hence why you are writing me now.

I find this statement very interesting, " How do we get it through to her that these are not the habits and behaviours that are found in respectable society?" Really? How is assault on a child acceptable behavior in a respectable society? If my neighbor lies to me I am not permitted to go across the street to his or her home and commit violence against them to "teach" them not to lie to me.

Realize what you are doing IS NOT WORKING for you. It has not changed her negative behavior.

You and your husband need to change STRATEGIES and with a history this long you will not see an immediate change. You cannot undo what has been done by spanking a child for 10 or 11 years.

You will need to be persistent, consistent and determined to make this change in yourselves FIRST. Her behavior will get worse before it drops off and gets better IF you stick to the program.

Here is how you change her behavior.

1st. She is not a bad child. She has a bad behavior you want to change. Accept this and look at her this way.

2. You HAVE to catch her doing things right and then praise her or reward her. Set her up to SUCCEED. IGNORE the bad behavior if it is not physically endangering to her or others. If she tells a lie ignore it!

3. If you haven't before get to a Family therapist and get support for changing this negative interaction with your daughter. YOU CAN CHANGE THIS OUTCOME if you are determined to do so.

You can do this and you will need to be patient with yourself to do this as well as your daughter. If it is too difficult then get support from a good family therapist to support you through the changes.

Realize I am not saying your daughter should not have natural consequences for her behaviors I am saying she needs positive consequences for her positive behavior. What you reinforce you will get more of. If your daughter gets your full, undivided attention when she acts out, guess what she will do more of? Children need approval and attention they will do whatever it takes to get it at that same level.

Thank you for writing. I do believe you want to change the outcomes!

M Kay Keller