My child is stealing and lying. How do I stop it? – Ask Dr. Leman 107 (Episode 230)

Trust is crucial for all relationships, but what happens when your child breaks that trust? Dr. Leman dives into how to deal with an untrustworthy child in today’s episode. Learn more about Dr. Leman at BirthOrderGuy.com.

Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours

Parenting a Powerful Child  

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Show Sponsored by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing

Produced by Unmutable™


Transcript

Doug:                       Hi. I’m Doug Terpening.

Andrea:                  And I’m Andrea.

Doug:                       And we are so glad that you are with us on this podcast today. We get to ask Dr. Leman a question about a kid who is stealing and lying, and what do I do about?

Dr. Leman:           My kind of kid.

Doug:                       Well, if this is your first time with us, we just want to let you know this is for your education and entertainment purposes only. If the subject matter raises any concern for you or a child, please seek a local professional for help.

So, Dr. Leman, this drops on July 31st, and Andrea and I, as 4H leaders, will just have wrapped up the country fair, and the blue ribbons, and all of that will be over with.

Dr. Leman:           What a great organization. I’m so happy you guys are in that.

Now, I haven’t heard from Michelle yet, but I know that’s her name and she’s going to be talking about stealing and lying. So let me give this full self-disclosure. I got thrown out of college for stealing the conscience fund, which was a fund that was created because the ice cream machine malfunctioned, and we went and cleaned it out, and we lived in Chicago. That’s where the college was. It was the middle of February, and so our ledge on our dorm served as a great refrigerator for these frozen ice cream treats.

Well, the dorm had a big deal about it. The head dorm rat was really over the top with this, and he left a note that said, “For those of you who have participated in the ice cream social, illegal ice cream social, the dorm lost X amount of dollars.” I came in with my roommate one night, saw the sign. The night watchman, Gus, had fallen asleep in his chair. I looked at him and said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if I stole this?” He said, “It would be very funny.” So I stole the money. I went up, bought pizza for the guys in the wing. It led to me being thrown out of college. It was a harmless college prank. The dean of students didn’t agree. The miracle of all of this was 10 years later I was a dean of students. So God has a way of moving in our lives, doesn’t he?

Then in terms of lying, when I first met my wife, I mean I fell in love like a ton of bricks. Dated her about three and half months. Then she pops the question and she said, “Would you like to go to church with me,” and I remember thinking, “Holy,” I’ll say, “cow, she’s one of them,” and if there’s one thing I didn’t want to do, it was go to church, and what did I say to my bride-to-be? I said, “Oh, well, I was just thinking about going to church. I would just love to go to church with you.” So I just want Michelle to know that the Leman boy is guilty on both counts of stealing and lying.

Doug:                       Well, let’s jump into Michelle’s question here. All right.

Michelle:              Hi, Dr. Leman and Doug and Andrea. I’ve a question about our son who is five. We actually have three kids, a 16 year old daughter, an 11 year old daughter, and our son.

I would say he fits very nicely into the description of the powerful child that’s loud and aggressive that Dr. Leman talks about. He’ll argue about the color of the sky if you engage with him. He’s embarrassed us over the years several times with public temper tantrums. We weren’t really prepared for a kid like him, and when we figured that out, I guess we started reading Dr. Leman’s books and we’ve implemented a lot of things with him. It’s really helped our whole family really.

My question is how to handle some specific issues that have popped up over the last several months. He’s been taking things from people at school, on the bus, and around the house, and at first, he was just trading things, like Pokemon cards and small toys, and keeping things he found that others lost, and now he’s moved on to he just takes things and hides them. He used to be good about fessing up, as long as we approached him in a way that didn’t back him into a corner. Now he won’t admit it, and it’s still pretty easy to tell when he’s guilty, because he will refuse to come into the house after school, or hide in his room. Yesterday he took somebody’s toy at school twice, and he hid it in his backpack, and when he was found out, he ran out of the school and had to be chased down the road.

Do you have any advice?

Dr. Leman:           Yes, I do have advice, a couple of things. Number one, Michelle, I love your question. That was a well organized question that seemed to scratch where you itch, and you were quick to point out that you have a powerful child. Let me point out to you, you have at least two families with your three kids. You have your 16 year old and your 11 year old, followed by the thing, the surprise, the after-thought. There’s a huge gap there of six years between the 11 year old and five year old.

So the five year old is essentially an only child with four parents, and this is important, because you have to understand that this kid might feel like he’s bossed around by a lot of people, and his mantra might be, “Nobody’s going to boss me around,” and he is a powerful child, for whatever reason.

So you probably have catered too much to him, given him an unjustified sense of power within the family. His persona is magnified for a number of reasons, and the things that you say, like he’s going to argue with you. If you say something like the sky is blue, he’s going to tell you it’s aqua, et cetera. The fact that he throws temper tantrums just confirms that you have a powerful child on your hands.

In terms of reading material, the Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours, revised edition … Revised edition is very important. Read that sucker. You probably read Parenting Your Powerful Child. I don’t know if you said that or not, come to think of it.

But here’s what I want you to know. You have a nose for this kid. You know when he’s done something wrong. You know observing his behavior that something is amiss today. He’s probably taken something from someone, a toy at school or whatever.

The importance of this cannot be underscored enough, because the behavior has to stop. Now, from a parent level, what you’ve got here is a breakdown in trust, and what you’ve learned about your approach with him is don’t back him in a corner, because now you got a badger on your hands. He’s going to dig in and he’s not going to admit to anything.

So you’re going to have to be skillful about how you approach him. But what has to be said, the words that you have to say is, “I’m upset. I’m sad, because I no longer can trust you.” So trust is the huge issue there.

Now, five year old, there’s not a lot of meat on the bone when you say, “I don’t trust you.” There really isn’t. You put meat on the bone when he sees that his lying has a consequence. So even when he says, “Can I go out in the backyard and play,” the answer is no. When he says, “Can I go next door and play with my friend,” the answer is no. And so you’re going to start giving him a lot of vitamin N, where he is going to have to come back and say essentially, “What gives? You always let me go play out in the backyard with my toys, or ride my bike, or go next door and play with my little buddy,” and now you have a response that’s true. It’s not overly emotional, but it calls a spade a spade, so to speak, and it lets him see, and this is the key point, there’s a consequence for my lying.

The stealing is antisocial behavior, and, again, it can continue and grow. A five year old, are they able to grasp the concept of jail, being in a penitentiary, going to go juvie, getting in trouble with authorities? They are to a certain degree. You could play that card, but I wouldn’t overplay it.

But the point is, when he, all of a sudden, figures out that his freedoms, and here’s the training gun for life. It’s your home, your apartment. That’s the training field of life. But when he realizes on an every day basis, because of his lying and stealing, you can’t trust him … There’s not a relationship that works in the world if there’s not trust and respect.

And so your job now is to really get good at developing your no skills, your Vitamin N skills, and this is a kid that’s going to argue. He’s the fish out of water. He’s flopping on the dock on the lake. He is going to give you his best shot.

So when you start being consistent and turning the screws a little bit, coming in on him a little bit, it predictably is going to get worse for a short period of time. He’s going to give you his best shot, and then he’s going to begin to mellow out, as long as you’re consistent and as long as you and hubby … I’m assuming there’s a hubby, are on the same page. If there’s not a hubby and you’re going it alone, then you have to be better at being consistent.

Doug:                       Dr. Leman, what kind of a mindset does Michelle need to have, or what does she need to brace herself as she starts to make this change?

Dr. Leman:           She cannot be deterred by temporary behavior on his part. You’ve often heard me say, “You’re the captain or co-captain of the good ship family on the lake of life,” and my followup to that is always, “Do you have a port of call?” It goes back to what you’ve said, Doug, as a reminder, we’re rearing adults. We’re rearing a kid who is going to be trustworthy, who when he works at age 16 isn’t going to see all these $20 bills in the cash register and say, “What harm would there be for me to take five of them and stick them in my pocket?” Trust me, this is a lot of harm. So you want to teach a kid to be honest, reliable, conscientious. It starts in the home.

The good news is, Michelle, we’re talking about a five year old, so behavior can be changed at five rather easily. But it’s only going to change if he sees there’s a benefit in him beginning to live life differently. Can you make him live life differently? No, you can’t. But you can set up circumstances where he’s going to figure out, “Hey, I’m money ahead to go with the program here. I’m shooting myself in the foot.” So that’s what you’re after.

I’m telling you, you sound like a lovely mom. Again, everybody, put yourself in Michelle’s. You got a 16 year old. You got an 11 year old. That’s your little family. Six years later, the rabbit dies. You’re pregnant. I mean that happened to the Lemans many times. We had the surprise and the shocker, and when I think of our little surprise, Hannah, I mean we were all overjoyed that we had this new little baby come into home, and she still has very special relationships, for example, with her old brother. We have videos of him marching her around the house in her highchair, and singing to her, and putting on plays and shows for her. It’s interesting. He makes money putting on shows for America today on TV.

But nevertheless, older siblings can have a very positive or negative impact on younger children.

Doug:                       So, for Michelle, she’s got to get the idea that I’ve got to make it that there’s a benefit to him to not lie. There has to be benefit to his life for him to [crosstalk 00:12:23].

Dr. Leman:           Without saying it.

Doug:                       Without saying it.

Dr. Leman:           Without saying it, right.

Doug:                       So let’s do a role play real quick, if you don’t mind. So I’m five year old, and you’re-

Dr. Leman:           Doug, I’ve thought of you as a five year old for many years, so this will not be difficult.

Doug:                       Thank you. I don’t think of you as a Michelle, just so you know. I’ve never thought of you as Michelle.

Dr. Leman:           Good one.

Doug:                       So I come home, and I’ve been caught stealing again. The school called and said I stole again from the kid, and I walk in the door. What happens? Hi, mom.

Dr. Leman:           Hi, honey, how are you?

Doug:                       Great.

Dr. Leman:           I can tell something’s wrong.

Doug:                       No.

Dr. Leman:           Honey, I’ve got a nose like a beagle. A beagle is a little puppy dog that is known for hunting down rabbits, and trust me, I got a nose. Something’s wrong. I can tell by the way you walked in the door.

Doug:                       Johnny gave me his new toy at school.

Dr. Leman:           Yeah. Can we see that toy right now?

Doug:                       Yeah. Yeah. Here it is.

Dr. Leman:           Okay. Right now in front of you, I’m going to go get my computer, and I’m going to write a note to your teacher, and who gave you this toy?

Doug:                       Johnny.

Dr. Leman:           Johnny. I’m going to send an email to your teacher, and I’m going to ask her to investigate this.

Doug:                       Oh, oh, oh, it’s all right. Johnny doesn’t want anyone else to know, because he’s afraid his mom will be upset by it. So he just gave it to me and said, “Don’t tell anybody.”

Dr. Leman:           Isn’t that wonderful that Johnny would just give that to you? He’s got to be a very kind person.

Doug:                       Yep. Yep.

Dr. Leman:           But this is just for my own curiosity. I’m going to follow through with the email. You’re going to see. I’m going to read you exactly what I’m saying to teacher.

Doug:                       No.

Dr. Leman:           And then tomorrow, you and I will sit down, and you will write a thank you note to Johnny for giving you this toy.

Doug:                       Johnny said he doesn’t want … He’s afraid his mom will be upset that he gave his toy away. But he doesn’t really like it anymore, and that’s why he gave it to me. So I think Johnny will get upset, or maybe in trouble, or something. I don’t think he [crosstalk 00:14:30].

Dr. Leman:           I understand exactly what you’re saying, but I’m the parent and this is how we’re going to proceed. So you just go and enjoy that gift that he gave you.

Doug:                       You don’t believe me. This is horrible. You’re treating me so poorly right now. This is unbelievable.

Dr. Leman:           Honey, for the sake of honesty, I don’t believe you, and I’m going to continue on the path I’m going, and the teacher will investigate it tomorrow, and we’ll deal with this tomorrow.

Doug:                       You hate me. I hate you. How can you do this?

Dr. Leman:           You think whatever you want to think. In the meantime, you go to your room and do whatever kids do after they steal something.

Doug:                       If you hate me and treat me this way, I’m just going to run away from home. I already ran away from school. I can run away from home again.

Dr. Leman:           Honey, one of the things I’ve learned in my life is that people can do whatever they want to do, and there’s not much you can do to stop them from. So if you really would like us to check in to another place for you to live, I’d be more than happy to, or if you have any friends who will invite you to their home and feed you and clothe you, and do special things with you, if that could be arranged, have them call me. I’d love to talk with them.

Doug:                       I’m never talking to you again. Bye.

Dr. Leman:           Well, see, you have to finesse your way through that, because, number one, notice I didn’t start out saying, “I don’t believe you,” and it took us a while to get to where the kid gets so frustrated he doesn’t know what to say. He’s going to play, “You don’t love me. You hate me. You don’t believe a word I say.” Well, at that point, “Okay, yeah, you’re right. I don’t believe you,” and it is based on previous behavior. It’s not like I’m pulling it out of thin air. This isn’t the first time that stealing has been addressed in our home.

And so we find a way … Again, you’re the adult here, parent. We’re talking about a five year old, who believes that this big, jolly old person comes down the chimney, and you can’t take him on in such a way as that you do the responsible thing and, again, you didn’t hear the anger. You didn’t hear the explosiveness on the parent’s parent. You got to try to keep your cool as you wade through these dilemmas.

Is this stuff important? It’s very important, and so parent, you can do this. If you need some help, run it by your mate. That’s one of the reasons why we do this podcast, because, Michelle, again, I love the way you asked the question. I can tell you’re an organized person, just the way you come across in asking a question. I think you’re a great parent. I think you’re stuck in a situation where obviously you’re frustrated. You’ve tried a lot of things, and haven’t had the success you need. But you’re going to get there, and so will your five year old if you play your cards right. That’s why we do this.

But my point is, there’s thousands of other parents who are listening to this, your case history, Michelle, and theirs might be a little different, but there’s takeaway for all of us, and that’s why we do this. We’re in this thing together. We want to be better parents. We want to be better husbands and better wives. Why? Because everybody wins when we get to that point.

Andrea:                  Dr. Leman, what about the older kids. Is there anything that Michelle should ask them to do or not do anymore? Should they be changing the way they … Because you referred to the fact that he was probably bossed around by four parents.

Dr. Leman:           Yeah. At 16 and 11, they might see a five year old as a nuisance. On the other hand, he may have a special … And good for the question. Thank you. He might have a special relationship with older sister, would be my guess, if there’s a sister in there. Did she enumerate who was who?

Andrea:                  I feel like the oldest was a sister. I don’t remember.

Dr. Leman:           Yeah. But if there’s an older sister, lots of time that older sister, when there’s a big gap, becomes sort of a surrogate parent, and she sees this little guy as the bonus to the family, the family toy, the caboose, whatever you want to call him, and that older daughter could be a part of the problem as well if she’s doing too many things for a five year old and making too many excuses. So, yeah, that would be wise to just do a little survey. I mean I think Michelle’s got a good idea of who is who in our family, and she can answer that question for herself. But if one of those kids is a real ally to five year old, then that person saying, “Hey, I’m upset to hear that you’ve been lying,” is a good strategy.

Andrea:                  Yeah.

Doug:                       Well, this was super helpful. I’ve heard Vitamin N a bunch on here, but I finally connect the dots, because we know who the slow one of the three of us is, and it’s not the guy whose name it’s after or the wife. You have to change to benefit for the kids to change the behavior, and that’s why no works so well. That’s so good.

Well, Michelle, thank you for asking your question. I appreciate everybody who has the guts to call in and say this is my issue. We appreciate it a ton. We appreciate Revell Books and Baker Books for making this happen. They’re amazing partners to be the sponsor of this podcast, and we appreciate every single one of you that’s going to Dr. Leman’s Facebook, Dr., D-R, Kevin, K-E-V-I-N, Leman, L-E-M-A-N, Facebook, and posting and sharing it with your friends, because there’s a lot of people out there that are hurting and want resources and want practical, safe, easy, hard to do but easy to do steps. So thank you guys so much.

We look forward to the next time we get to add to your parenting tool box. Have a great day.

Andrea:                  Have a great day.

Doug:                       Bye-bye.