My 10-year-old daugh­ter is steal­ing treats and then ly­ing to me about it

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Family - John Sharry Send your queries to [email protected]­times.com

QI have a 10-year-old girl who has been steal­ing from the treat box and then ly­ing about it when the wrap­pers are found un­der her pil­low. This is not the first time it has hap­pened and we have dis­cussed how im­por­tant hon­esty is for us to trust each other.

I think we have two prob­lems here – firstly, she can­not help her­self just tak­ing stuff when we are not around to see, and se­condly, the ly­ing.

We had a chat yes­ter­day and told her that this be­hav­iour is un­ac­cept­able, that we love her no mat­ter what, but this be­hav­iour must stop.

She usu­ally gets pocket money on a Fri­day to buy some­thing in the shops with her friend if com­ing over for a play, but we said to her yes­ter­day she won’t get that to­day and that we would have to hide the treat box now so the temp­ta­tion is not there.

She asked me this morn­ing if she could have the money to go to the shop. I asked her did I have to re­mind her of our con­ver­sa­tion yes­ter­day, but she said “Oh no, I re­mem­ber now”. I was so shocked. She was act­ing like it had never hap­pened.

I am wor­ried we are not han­dling this the right way and don’t want to it to de­velop into some­thing more se­ri­ous.

AWhen your chil­dren di­rectly lie to you, it can feel like a shock. You can imag­ine it is a big be­trayal of trust, es­pe­cially if it hap­pens more than once, and you can worry that it might lead to se­ri­ous prob­lems in the fu­ture.

How­ever, chil­dren oc­ca­sion­ally telling lies is rel­a­tively com­mon so it is im­por­tant to put this be­hav­iour in con­text. A child sneak­ing treats with­out per­mis­sion and then ly­ing to cover their tracks is a com­mon child­hood mis­be­haviour.

Of course, it needs to be ad­dressed by par­ents so they can be held to ac­count, but it does not mean they are on course to be patho­log­i­cal liars in the fu­ture. A calm, mea­sured ap­proach is im­por­tant.

Re­spond­ing to mis­be­haviour

When deal­ing with a be­hav­iour prob­lem such as ly­ing, it is help­ful to think through not only how you will re­spond when it hap­pens for the first time but also how you will re­spond if it hap­pens a sec­ond or even a third or fourth time. Hav­ing a clear plan for how you will re­spond, even as prob­lems es­ca­late, keeps you one step ahead of your child and makes your re­sponse more calm, dis­ci­plined and ef­fec­tive.

It is also im­por­tant not to “over-pun­ish” the first in­stance of a mis­be­haviour as this means you quickly run out of op­tions should it hap­pen again. For this rea­son, it might be bet­ter to re­move only some of your daugh­ter’s pocket money rather than all of it, as this gives you the op­tion of a fur­ther penalty should the prob­lem es­ca­late. Small, re­peat­able con­se­quences work best.

If it is the lack of hon­esty that both­ers you most, then make sure this is tar­get of the sanc­tion – “what both­ers me most is that you did not tell the truth when I asked and this is why you are los­ing pocket money”. Or “we will have to take away the treat box un­til you show that you can be trusted to tell us the truth”.

The trick with con­se­quences is to never run out and to frame them as a pos­i­tive choice about re­spon­si­bil­ity to the child – “if you show you can be trusted you will keep the rest of your pocket money” or “if you turn things around and be­have bet­ter you will get your treat the day af­ter to­mor­row” and so on.

Ex­pect chal­lenges

Rather than be­ing sur­prised, ex­pect chal­lenges to your dis­ci­pline and sim­ply think how you will calmly re­spond. For ex­am­ple, I would not worry that she said she “for­got the rule” the next morn­ing, but sim­ply see this as her test­ing whether you will stand firm. Then you can sim­ply say, “no, of course you can’t have a treat to­day, like we agreed”.

Pa­tiently and calmly fol­low­ing through on con­se­quences is usu­ally the best to help chil­dren learn to be re­spon­si­ble. If she con­tin­u­ally “for­gets” rules, you can con­sider adding ad­di­tional con­se­quences – “if you keep for­get­ting you might have to lose more pocket money, so you make sure to re­mem­ber”.

Pre­vent prob­lems

Lots of chil­dren find it hard to re­sist tak­ing treats when they are avail­able. Sug­ary snacks and cakes are ad­dic­tive and chil­dren, just like adults, find it hard to re­sist eat­ing them when they are in the house.

Stud­ies show it is en­vi­ron­ment that is a big­ger de­ter­mi­nant of un­healthy habits rather than per­sonal choice or a lack of will power. As a re­sult, there is merit in con­sid­er­ing re­mov­ing the treat box al­to­gether from the home for most of the week.

If you do need to keep cakes and treats for vis­i­tors, then per­haps these can be stored un­opened away from the kitchen.

In pro­mot­ing healthy habits to fam­i­lies, we sug­gest hav­ing a treats night, when these are bought on a once-off ba­sis but are not avail­able in the home apart from this.

John Sharry is founder of the Par­ents Plus Char­ity and an ad­junct pro­fes­sor at the UCD School of Psy­chol­ogy.

Lots of chil­dren find it hard to re­sist tak­ing treats when they are avail­able. Sug­ary snacks and cakes are ad­dic­tive and chil­dren, just like adults, find it hard to re­sist eat­ing them

PHO­TO­GRAPH: ISTOCK

A child sneak­ing treats with­out per­mis­sion and then ly­ing to cover their tracks is a com­mon child­hood mis­be­haviour.

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