July 25, 2012,
S.!. asks from Groton, MA on July 24, 2012
9 Year Old Stealing and Lying
Lately, my 9 year old has been shocking me with his behavior. I dont know what to do. He has been caught in many lies during the school year...homework, friends etc. We talk about it, he tells us hes sorry, he gets grounded, we tell him how important it is to be honest etc. Things seemed good for a few weeks. Then...I told him he could go across the street to his friends house but NO EATING THEIR FOOD...he says ok. My 6 year old comes home and says his brother had hotdogs at the friends house. I call him in and ask him if he has hotdogs and he immediateky starts yelling, crying ans saying no calling his brother a liar. His brother is crying now saying hes telling the truth...I ask friend if my son had hot dogs with him and hes says yes. My son gets grounded in his room for the rest of the day for lying. Then...Hes riding bikes with 2 kids on our road (we live on a dead end dirt road), he goes back and forth from our house to theirs. I decide to go check on him and hes not there. I drive down toi the main road and see him at the lake! This is a busy road with bad corners that he KNOWS hes not allowed on except with us...plus he rode his bike there and was AT THE LAKE WITH NO ADULT. I threw his bike in my car and he was grounded for 2 days, He said he had to go there bedcause his friends mom was going crazy and they needed to get away. really? then come home. Yesterday he snuck his ipod to summer camp and said it was in his backpack from the fishing trip...which isn't true because his ipod was here all day Sunday when he went fishing with his dad...i took the ipod away for a week. Then the worst is today...Im dropping him and his brother off at summer camp. I have $20 in my console of the car. Im out of the car getting his little brothers stuff out of the back, hes still in the car. His brother says "we need money for camp" (i give them $2 a day) My older son says, I dont need money today i have some quarters left. I give m y younger son some change, sign them in and leave. I stop at the store on my way home and MY MONEY IS GONE. It was there when I got i9n the car to take them to camp and unfortunately Im 99% sure he took it. Im so mad. Why is he being like this? Am I too strict or not strict enough? Why doesnt he get the right from the wrong? I Need suggestions...HELP
So What Happened?™
The reason he could not eat the neighbors food is because he already had lunch, and the other boys parents didnt want their child eating at other neighbors houses, therefore if their kid isnt eating our food why should my son eat theirs? He begs for food, and if he asked me first I would have let him. I was pointing out the fact that that was the rule and he lyed about it. Most of you are right...I am strict and I will not let my kid walk all over me or anyone else...he will get punished if he chooses to lie. Also, I cant afford to feed the whole neighborhood, nor can anyone around here...im not being mean, i just dont want my kids to mooch off the neighbors...we have picnics etc where we feed each others kids, but sometimes, like that day, I told him not to eat their food...
Thanks for your answers, opinions and suggestions!
M.C. answers from Washington DC on July 24, 2012
Tonight when you pick them up from camp, ask about the day, ask if they saw what happened to the money. Ask if they happen to have any chips or snacks left because you couldn't find your money so you had to skip lunch today.
Or, if you normally show up with drinks in hand, don't. Show up with nothing, or with water in a water bottle from home. Tell them that you went to buy the drinks but couldn't find the money that you were sure was in the car this morning.
Put a good ole fashion guilt trip on him. Don't over do it tho.
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S.W. answers from Minneapolis on July 24, 2012
I have a 10 year-old. I trust her to ride her bike across a busy street to visit a friend and she has been by a lake with friends and no adult present. If she's at a friend's house and they offer her food, she can accept, or not (I don't get the big caps lock deal about food??). She can bring her things (doesn't own any electronics yet cuz she doesn't want them) in her backpack whenever and where ever she wants, except for her pocketknife to school. If she loses something of hers, it's gone. I trust her.
You don't trust your son and he knows it. Lack of trust leads to pushing more boundaries, purposefully disobeying, lying, and now possibly stealing. Why not, because mom expects me too, anyway. Building trust starts from when they are really young, through actions and words and high expectations, and allowing gradual increases in responsibility as they earn it. (If it is his iPod, then it's his).
My daughter doesn't have to lie to me because there is nothing she can tell me (short of stealing, or hurting someone or damaging something on purpose which I know she would never do) that will lead to punishment. I've never had a reason to punish her. All kids will lie to avoid punishment, it's part of human development (see the book "Nurtureshock" for more on that). They will also lie because they see us lie ("How are you today?" "Fine!")
I've always had high, positive, expectations of my child and she sees and hears that. Disappointing a parent who believes good things of them, is something young children don't want to do. But now your son is 9 and old enough to want to push the boundaries, and trust is already missing between you.
I think you've been too strict.
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L.R. answers from Washington DC on July 24, 2012
Not knowing what the lies were during the school year or regarding friends, it's hard to tell what's going on now, over the summer.
I think you need to delve into WHY he lies and you need to be prepared for some tough truths that you may not like at all. There is a chance that his lies are partly because you don't choose battles or make everything too strict. (But read on.)
If you are extremely strict about many little things, he may be lying because he just figures it makes his life easier and because he also is scared that even a small infraction on his part will get him into huge trouble. Again, hard to answer here, because we don't know how strict you are or aren't. Some kids lie for fun; some lie out of fear of their parents; some lie because they want to do the forbidden thing so badly they would rather take the chance of being caught in the lie than not do the forbidden thing.
Consider some sessions with a family counselor for you (and husband if he's in the picture) and your son. You really need to find out why he is lying. The lying indicates he is either afraid of you and your reactions or so wrapped up in himself that he has zero concern for danger or consequences; either one is a bad thing and needs some serious work before he is in middle school. If he will not communicate with you now, you must get the communication happening before then or the problems will be much more serious. Please get a referral to a good family counselor who is used to working with kids his age.
Regarding the iPod: That sounds like it could have been 9-year-old forgetfulness. Was he fully aware it was banned at camp? Did you ban it or did the camp? Was this all made clear to him or was it more assumed that he knew? If he was told days earlier "no iPod at camp," he may simply have blanked that out. Kids this age do that. Not an excuse but an explanation.
Regarding the lake: You do know that two girls ages 10 and 12 are missing after biking to a local lake in their area, right? And have not yet been found after many days? Not your area, but still, it shows that kids just should not be out alone like this. So the lake thing is much more serious. I would have told him that if you cannot trust him to stay where he needs to be, you can no longer trust him to be outside on his own, and rather than grounding him I would have taken away his privilege to bike outside alone or to go to others' houses alone -- I would have said, "I or your dad must be outside and withiin sight of you if you are biking; and if you want to go anywhere, even across the street, we will walk you there and pick you up again at an appointed time." And I'd have done that for months, not days. Sorry, nine is too young to be running around the street, even a dead-end dirt road, on his own, because he showed you could not yet trust his maturity.
Regarding the food: Why couldn't he eat there? If it's a food allergy or other serious safety issue, he needs to be educated about WHY he can't eat whatever, wherever, or he will never learn how to protect himself. If it was because he might spoil his dinner that night, that's different. Which is it? He's nine. Did the other kid's mom know he wasn't to eat there? I would have called her and just given her a nice heads-up: "Johnny shouldn't eat while he's there--some crackers and juice or milk is fiine but if he wants a hot dog or more, please tell him no. Thanks."
Regarding the money: If you are 100 percent certain you had that money in console (you didn't spend it recently and forget to replenish it?), I would sit him down very calmly without yelling or accusing and ask him about it. Tell him that you are not going to "go off" on him no matter what the answer and that when he replies you and he will talk about what happens next. If he took it, ask him what HE thinks you should do next. If he shrugs or says "I don't know," ask him how he would feel if someone took his (favorite thing X) and kept it. Then you will need to figure out a discipline that teaches--like having him repay every cent over time by doing chores like scrubbing toilets etc. Don't rub his nose in how yucky the work is, just say "It's work that must be done and you are doing it to benefit us all." I would also possibly see if an off-duty cop could talk to him about stealing and the consequences because I'd be concerned that if he did take the money from you, next time it might be something from a store he wants.
If you tend to yell at him when he lies now -- stop. Sometimes kids stop hearing us when we yell. Being very cold, dropping the voice almost to a whisper, turning away and saying calmly, "I am so disappointed in you and so upset right now that I cannot talk about this so I am going to be back later" can often get a kid's attention better than yelling.
Also, when you ground him, what does that mean? Does he just stay home? If he does not also lose privileges like computer, TV time, games, toys, etc., then grounding means very little. If he gets to stay home or in his room with access to TV, games, contact with friends via phone or e-mail etc.--he's just having a "staycation." Be sure groundings have real teeth.
And please -- see a family counselor who can talk to ALL of you and help figure out why he will not communicate with you and why he does not ask for what he wants but takes it.
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M.D. answers from Washington DC on July 24, 2012
I really don't have much advice for you. This just made me think of when my parents were saving all of their change and then they needed the $100 or so for groceries and it was gone. My brother had taken it. I don't know how they put food on the table those next few days, but my parents are amazing like that (as crazy as they might drive me.)
We are the same way in our house. The punishment for lying is a million times worse than what it would be for the bad behavior.
It sounds like you need to sit down with him and go over choices and consequences. Grounding doesn't seem to be working - I'd find another punishment, and always make it fit the crime.
Could he not eat because you were having a family dinner? Or had he just eaten? For that I would have told the mom he couldn't eat or I wouldn't send him over around meal time.
The riding his bike to the lake, my kids would have gotten a spanking for that. That's a HUGE safety issue.
I'd lay the guilt trip on him and start watching your $ much closer. If he can't get it straight, then I'd talk to a therapist.
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D.B. answers from Boston on July 25, 2012
Thank you for the additional comments to clarify what others had questions about. You say you are strict because you don't want your kids to walk all over you. But here's the thing - he IS walking all over you. He does what he wants. The grounding isn't working so you aren't taking away what really matters to him, OR he figures he's going to lose endless privileges for every infraction (no matter how serious), so he might as well have some fun and see what he can get away with by lying. Chances are, you've missed some things he's done and so, in that sense, lying has paid off. He knows that telling you the truth is going to result in severe punishment, so he's going to lie.
I had very strict parents, was frequently spanked, and had ridiculous constraints unlike the other kids (and yes, I know that all kids say "all my friend have...." to manipulate their parents! But sometimes it's true.)
I think you have to choose some battles here. Safety is key - so find out if all the kids are allowed at the lake and what the risks are, as viewed by other parents. Is there absolutely no supervision? Find out what he meant by the other parent "going crazy" - was she angry or really out of control? Maybe if he asked your permission for certain things and you occasionally granted it, he'd be more forthcoming.
You say you cannot afford to feed the neighbors' kids and therefore don't want your son mooching. I get that. But really, is it such a terrible thing to accept a snack from a neighbor?
Why does a 9 year old have an iPod? It's not necessary, and it certainly could buy a lot of snacks. If he doesn't respect it, sell it on Craigslist and use the money to have a neighborhood kids' picnic or BBQ. Sounds like you do that on some level, and I do understand that you don't want him do disobey you. But maybe you should let the other parents know that he just ate and you want him to save his appetite for dinner. It works really well if parents cooperate, and the kids LEARN that there is a level of cooperation among parents. It's one of the great things about a good neighborhood. It helps parents keep track of kids, and it helps kids feel secure that lots of people care about them and are watching out for them. If that keeps them in line, so much the better. But it's vigilance born out of love.
If he's lying about doing his homework, find out why - it is too hard for him, does he need help? What does hit mean when you say he lies about friends - he doesn't tell you who he's with or where they are? That's bad. He blames other kids for stuff he did? Also not good. He doesn't tell you every single kid he plays with at recess? So what? No big deal.
Stealing money is a big thing - but not uncommon. Does he want something that he feels all the kids have? Or is he getting back at your because he thinks you're unreasonable? Does he think, or know, that it's gonna drive you crazy? Does he have a way to earn his own money?
He gets right from wrong - if he didn't, he'd be more obvious. But he's lying and stealing, so obviously he feels either that he deserves more, or he feels that the rules are too rigid, or both. I think you need a family sit-down, perhaps with a counselor, to really talk about what he thinks and what you value, and to explain the reason for rules. Figure out which rules really have to do with safety, and which have to do with honesty - and then make sure that, if he questions things, it's okay with you to discuss things. He should be allowed to voice a difference of opinion, if done respectfully, without being punished or yelled at.
I would consider granting him a little freedom based on honesty and forthrightness, and drawing the line at stealing and lying. I'd also make sure the punishments fit the crime, and that there is a way to reward him for awesome behavior and honesty (even if you don't like what he says). He needs to hear that he is loved for who he is, that you understand that he wants some freedom to go off with his friends, that he wants you to trust him within limits in the neighborhood. But you have to get to the bottom of things and find out why he is doing things. This means you may have to hear things that are unpleasant about you and your methods, and honestly face those things. This is why a counselor can come in handy. The school or your pediatrician can refer you.
A.R. answers from Dallas on July 24, 2012
If he took the money I would make him pay you back, then pay you punitive damages in the same amount. I did this to my son when he stole a book from a book fair. He knew I was giving him the money the next day but was afraid the book would be sold by then so he took it planning to pay them the next day - but he got caught. He had to return the book then sell enough of his books & video games to come up with double the cost of the books ($16 total) and donate the money to the library. It worked. Walking into the used bookstore and Gamestop to sell his games/books made a huge impression on him; he had to sell around 12 items to make the $16.
Long term you might want to think about some counseling for impulse control. My son had *no* impulse control at that age and we did get him counseling after the library theft incident. It helped quite a bit both with the impulse control and the general defiance.
R.M. answers from San Francisco on July 24, 2012
Other than the part about not being allowed to eat at the neighbors' house (??why not??) it's hard to say why your son is lying.
It's quite possible you are too strict, because I can't imagine telling a kid he can't eat at the neighbors' house. I see absolutely no reason for being so controlling. Unless he is obese, he should be able to eat. So that makes me wonder how strict you are in other ways. If you are super controlling, then yes, that would lead to the lying and possibly stealing. You have to give your kids a certain amount of trust and leeway.
But he can't do something dangerous, like go to the lake by himself at 9 years old, so a strict consequence for that is appropriate. You should also make sure he knows why he can't do that --- it's not safe, and you don't want him to be dead.
As far as stealing goes, you don't know for sure yet, but stealing is something that needs to be addressed. People shouldn't steal. So if you find out he stole the money, then make sure the consequence includes working hard to pay the money back.
T.S. answers from San Francisco on July 24, 2012
Of course I don't know the whole story but based on what you've shared here it sounds like you *may* be a bit controlling.
I've never told my kids they couldn't eat at a friend's house, is your son on a special diet or something? We eat pretty well at home so I didn't really care if they had junk food somewhere else, and I certainly wasn't worried about them spoiling their dinner. On the contrary, if they were full it just meant more for the rest of us.
Riding his bike where he wasn't supposed to just sounds like the impulsive behavior and poor choice of a nine year old. I'd give him a warning for the first offense, and take the bike away if he did it again.
Taking the ipod to camp? I don't manage my kids' electronic devices and phones. If they are old enough to have then they know if they are caught with them at school they will be confiscated, and if they lose them, then they are gone, we will NOT replace it until the next birthday or Christmas. Again, this is a control thing, give HIM the control over the ipod and let him suffer the natural consequences.
Stealing money WOULD worry me, though. Has he done this before? Maybe he's just gotten so used to hiding things from you that it's started to become a habit :(
Try backing off a little, try not to micromanage his behavior and see if that helps. And make sure he has accountability to the family and household (chores.) This is especially important as you lengthen the leash: with freedom comes responsibility.
K.G. answers from Burlington on July 25, 2012
When I was younger I stole from my folks out of desperation...NO ability to earn my own money. They tried to keep me on such a short leash that I felt like I had to lie to do anything. I would have and did deny it even when faced with the damning evidence. I would suggest some one on one time to build up some trust, common ground, and see if he can start earning money, not just getting allowance. Needs to also see how dangerous going to the lake by himself is (although when we were kids we thought nothing of doing this, and did all sorts of dangerous stuff...no drugs or alcohol, but experiementing with fire and crossing bridges on the outside...how did we survive?? and we were good kids :) I hope you get good advice.