Who Me–A Liar?
by Darla Isackson
When I was working on the James Jones parenting book (still not in print), I asked my neighbor to read the rough draft and give me feedback. When she returned the manuscript, she said, “Darla, you can’t imagine how much I needed this. Just last week my ten-year-old said to me, ‘Mommy, why do you always lie?’ I gasped because I’ve always considered myself a very honest person. I couldn’t imagine what my daughter was talking about until I read this material. Thank you for helping me understand something that can make a huge difference in my parenting.”
With James Jones’s permission I want to share with you some of the thought-provoking stories and ideas I showed to my neighbor:
Are Parents Liars When They Talk and Don’t Act?
One Monday a teenage girl asked her mom, “May I go to the beach with my friends Saturday?
“You may go if you get your bedroom and bathroom thoroughly cleaned.”
“Oh, thank you, thank you, Mom. You won’t even need to remind me.”
“I won’t. I’m leaving it up to you to get those jobs done.”
Most moms cannot stand it if they do not do a little nagging every day. This mom had been going to my class, so she did not nag; she put duct tape across her mouth. Dad held her in the bedroom so she could not go after their daughter when she made no progress on her cleaning all the week long. Saturday came and the teenager came running in and begged to go to the beach, although her jobs were not done.
“Mommy, I love you. If you let me go, I promise I’ll get all my work done when I get back.”
Mom said, “I shouldn’t let you go; you’ve been irresponsible; you didn’t do a thing. I didn’t remind you, and sure enough you fell through the cracks.”
“But Mom, these are the good kids you’ve been wanting me to hang out with. If I don’t go today, maybe they’ll never ask me again. Pleeeeese let me go, and you won’t even have to ask me to do my work when I get home. Really!”
“Well, okay, I’ll let you go if you promise to do your work as soon as you get home.”
When the girl got back from the beach did she do her work? She came in groaning, all sunburned, and exhausted and said, “Oh, Mom, I just can’t do anything right now. I’m sooooo tired and sooooo sore.” And she headed straight for bed.
The mother talked, but she did not act. What had the daughter learned? Will she believe Mother the next time she says, “You can go if– ?” Will she be motivated to get her work done? Was Mother lying when she changed her mind, did not stick to what she had told her daughter? Was the daughter lying when she said she would do her work as soon as she got home, then did not? What consequences did the mother suffer for her choices? Did the daughter suffer any consequences?
If we talk and do not act, if we allow our kids to argue and debate and “make a deal” after we have said “no,” we are conditioning them to continue arguing and debating and trying to browbeat us. If their begging pays off and we change our minds (talk but do not follow through) we have rewarded them for harassing us and set ourselves up for more harassment in the future. They will challenge every “no” they hear in the future. They have learned that the odds are in their favor for wearing us down and getting what they want. They simply will not believe what we say. This kind of giving in, which I believe is lying to a child, can reinforce the very behavior we want most to get rid of. Let’s see how this principle works with young children.
Talk Without Action Reinforces Bratty Behavior
“I want a cookie, Mommy!”
“No, I gave you a cookie yesterday afternoon and you didn’t eat your dinner.”
“Please, Mommy. I promise I will eat my dinner tonight.”
“No! Don’t you know what ‘no’ means?”
“Pretty please, Mom! I love you! I really promise!”
“Okay, here. But remember, you promised!”
Sammy had to ask for the cookie three times to be rewarded once. This is intermittent reinforcement.Sammy is like a man in Las Vegas who persistently puts quarters in a slot machine because he believes it will eventually pay off. The child who sometimes gets his way through bratty behavior will usually continue to act bratty.
The next evening he asked for a cookie and mother said, “No, siree, you didn’t eat your supper after you promised. No way, Jose’.” Mother was now more determined to resist his begging, so she held out until he had asked eight times and whined for twenty minutes. But did Sammy believe Mother’s talk? No. Then Mother got fed up and ended up giving him a cookie to shut him up. She said, “Here, take a cookie and go out to play. I’m sick of listening to you whine.” Again intermittent reinforcement.
If this mother tried to explain to the child that he is giving her migraines, would he understand what that means? No! As sweet and innocent as Sammy is, he does not yet have the capacity to be compassionate. Little children have no comprehension of how you feel; they simply want what they want in the moment.
Day after day Mother’s resolve strengthened, which required that Sammy ask more times and do more whining and begging to increase the odds that he will get his reward. The episode was no longer a short one; it kept getting longer until finally the only way Sammy could get a cookie was to whine and beg for an hour and then throw a full-blown tantrum. Again intermittent reinforcement. Why did Sammy keep repeating this miserable, bratty behavior? Because he knew that if he kept it up, chances were very good that he would eventually get rewarded.
Both giving in and renegotiating (the “talk” without the “action”) make a liar of the parent and reinforce bratty behavior. If Mother “changes her mind” because a child whines long enough, she was lying when she said “no” to begin with. If whining got the child what he wants once, he will continue to whine to see if he can make a liar out of Mom again.
We train our kids not to believe us when we fall into this pattern. Would the child have any motivation to throw tantrums if we consistently acted on what we said? No, and the child would soon give up the begging and whining.
Each time Sammy’s mother gave in, she encouraged his bratty behavior, and trained him to beg and whine; but worst of all she taught him not to believe what she said. She taught him to be persistent, to endure, and to never give up because he knew the odds were in his favor that she would eventually change her mind. He knew she was all talk and no act. Oblivious to her role in this whole scenario, Sammy’s mother said, “What’s the matter with this child? I can’t stand him any more!”
Messages from the Garden of Eden
Does God, the model parent, lie to us or renegotiate consequences? Let’s refer again to the profound story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The answers to most of our problems with our children can be found in that story.
God put Adam and Eve in the Garden and told them not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Still, he gave them their freedom to choose, and told them the consequences if they chose to eat. This “home environment” that God created for his children allowed for imperfection and disobedience–with consequences.
What was not done in the Garden, is just as important as what was done. As Eve put forth her hand and partook of the fruit, did she hear from a window in heaven, “Eve, get out of that tree. What did I tell you? Why don’t you pay any attention to what I say? Do I talk for nothing? Don’t you believe me?”
And after Adam partook, did he hear: “Adam, get your sister and come over here. Get over here now! Right now! What did I tell you? Eve, be quiet. Adam, what did I tell you?”
“Not to eat the fruit.”
“Eve, why did you eat it?”
“Well, Lucifer told me to.”
“Who are you going to listen to, me or your stupid friends? Adam, why did you eat?”
“Well, Eve ate some first.”
“If Eve jumps off a cliff are you going to jump off a cliff? Don’t you listen to me? I’m Father, don’t you think I know what’s best? You listened to your sister instead of me? Nobody listens to me! I’m just sick of this! You guys are really going to get it!”
Is that what we hear? It’s ludicrous to think that could have happened.
When God came down and found that Adam and Eve had done what was forbidden, he was not all bent out of shape. He was not tweaked. He did not say, “You people make me so angry. You always mess up things. You just will not listen! You will not keep the rules!”
God never talks that way. It’s against his principles to control, to take away choice. He does not say, “What are we going to do with these kids? Maybe we could send them away to summer camp.”
And God did not say to Adam and Eve, “Okay, all right. I know you are naive. I know you are innocent, I know you were tricked and you really did not know better, so I’ll let it go this time. But if you eat any more of that fruit, you are really going to die next time because I’ve had it with you kids. That was your last chance. No more chances!”
The issue was not whether Adam and Eve understood, whether they were innocent, whether Satan had deceived them, whether they meant well. The issue was the law (his word) and the consequence. God held Adam and Eve accountable for what they did and they suffered the consequences for their choices. God had told them what would happen, and God would not lie.
We lie to ourselves and to our children when we do not follow through. It is important that we watch our words carefully and avoid speaking unless we are willing to follow through, to ACT.
Children need to know parents are telling the truth so they can depend on it. They do not need parents who continually change their minds, make a deal, give in, or renegotiate consequences. How much would it change our homes if we never lied–if we had absolute credibility with our kids? If our children who were told they couldn’t go to the beach until their chores were done knew we meant it, would our lives be easier? Would our children be better behaved? How different would the environment in our homes be if our children could always depend on what we said–if we did less talking, and more creative acting?
Modern Scriptures Stress the Importance of Truth
The Doctrine and Covenants is a treasure trove of scripture regarding truth: D&C 93: 40 counsels us to bring up our children in light and truth. D&C 93:39 reminds us that it the wicked one who takes away light and truth D&C 18:21 counsels us to “Take upon you the name of Christ, and speak the truth in soberness.” D&C 84:45 says: “For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” The more we speak the truth in our homes, the more light-filled they will be. D&C 88:7 reiterates that truth is the light of Christ. Several other verses in section 93, verses 9, and 26 teach that Christ is the Spirit of truth. We can turn from the darkness of the world, turn from following the example of Satan, the father of lies, and fill our home with the truth, the light of Christ.
2002 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.