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Monthly Archives: September 2013

Dear Cathi,

I don’t know what to do about my 10 year old’s lying. He is always telling me he has finished his homework when he hasn’t. I’ll literally catch him with his hand in the cookie jar, and he still won’t fess up. How can he lie when I’ve caught him red-handed? I’m worried his lying is only going to get worse. By the time he is a teenager, will he be lying to me about drugs and alcohol? Do you have any words of wisdom for me?




Dear Jeff,

All children lie. They may lie in different ways and for different reasons, but they all lie. Some twist the truth; others hide the facts, and still others tell tall tales. Lying concerns all parents. But not all lying is fundamentally problematic.

For instance, it is perfectly normal for a four or five year old child to make up stories and exaggerate. Young children love to hear and make up stories just for fun. Sometimes it’s hard for them to distinguish reality from fantasy. It is always important for parents to reinforce the difference between fantasy and reality, even while they are enjoying the imagination of their entertaining child.

Adolescents play around with “acceptable” versions of the truth. If a girl is asked out on a date by a boy, she may want to say, “No. I have no interest in you. You are a total loser.” Instead, she says, “No. I can’t. My parents say that I can’t go out on any dates.” Is this lying? Open communication with a teenager about the ethics of honesty is recommended as a constant.

Lying becomes destructive when it becomes compulsive. Parents subjected to compulsive lying don’t know whether to trust their child. The cycle of mistrust can become entrenched and it is difficult for a parent to know how to stop it.

I find it helpful to understand the underlying reason behind the lying. What is your child trying to achieve through lying? A common motivator for lying is fear. Whether or not the fear is warranted is another story. Frequently a child is afraid of his parents’ reaction. “Mom is going to kill me.” “Dad is going to ground me for a year.” It is helpful to try as a parent to speak calmly to your child, avoid accusations, and listen for explanations prior to reacting.

Another cause for lying is just plain habit. Lying becomes an automatic reflex. An effective way of coping with this kind of lying is to offer the child an opportunity to take back the lie without fear of repercussions.

A child may lie out of a desire to avoid an unpleasant activity. This is commonly the reason for the I-already-finished-my-homework lie. I recommend to parents that in this circumstance they double up on the consequences. If there is one consequence for the transgression (incomplete homework), offer an additional consequence for the lie. The child quickly learns that he can save himself additional punishment by admitting to the original transgression.

Above all, remember that it is more essential to encourage honesty than it is to punish dishonesty.



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Dear Parents,

Most everyone has heard the quote: “Feed a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”  While this expression is not usually applied to helping kids with homework, I feel it really does fit.

All too often, when we choose to review our children’s homework it is when we are tired and/or stressed at the end of the day. Rather than encouraging an evolving process, we correct, edit, and evaluate. Intellectually, we know that our involvement may improve the final product but does absolutely nothing for our child’s feelings of competence.  When we focus on what they HAVEN’T accomplished rather than what they HAVE, we are telling them they are not good enough. Whenever we inadvertently “fix” their problems, we are really not helping them. Instead, we are giving them the message that they must rely on outside agents rather than on their own resources to get themselves out of a jam.

So, what should we do?  Just back off completely? Allow the “sink or swim” theory to take hold?  I refuse to believe that there are only two choices:  take over completely or give up entirely.  We have to find a way to communicate with our children to ENCOURAGE rather than DISCOURAGE their school efforts.

Here are 7 suggestions to help our children achieve their definition of academic success:

Step One:  Remain confident that your child can solve any problem that comes her way. Show her your confidence not just with your words but also your body language and facial expressions.

Step Two:  Be supportive of him in finding a solution to the problem (if he asks for help). When he does ask for help, reinforce his ideas and brainstorm with him multiple solutions to a problem, allowing him to choose which plan of action feels right.

Step Three:  Calmly allow her to express negative emotions without judging or trying to talk her out of it. Instead of saying “C’mon you don’t really feel that way.  You love school”, make statements like “It sounds like you had a really rough day today at school” or “You are really angry with your teacher about how she handled the situation with you.”

Step Four:  Ask more open-ended questions. Instead of “Do you need any help with your homework?” ask, “How can I help you with your homework?  Instead of “Did you have a nice day at school today?” try “What was school like for you today?”

Step Five:  Praise EFFORT not PRODUCT. Make comments like, “I can see you really worked hard on this assignment.”

Step Six:  Be available to him during a consistent study time each day. Ideally, sit down with him while he does his homework right after school. If you are not home every day when he arrives from school, try to find an hour to sit down just before or just after dinner that is consistent and without distraction for him to work on homework while you are close by in case he needs help.

Step Seven:  SUGGEST rather than INSIST on correction. This one is a major challenge. It’s just so difficult to allow what we deem as sloppy or careless work to be returned to school without editing. Practice suggesting, rather than insisting that work be corrected.

Is it realistic to put these seven steps into action?  Just like with my own children, I have to support my own efforts to change and grow as a parent.  There is no doubt that I will slip back periodically into my frustrated, stressed-out stance. It is especially at times like those that I need to say to myself that progress is rarely linear in nature.  Rather, we take two steps forward and one step back.  Parenting, like schoolwork, is a process!

I wish you all health, happiness, and continual growth.

Cathi Cohen

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