December 17, 2011

Honest Conversation with Robotson

I just had the best conversation with Robotson.  I am reading Why Kids Lie:  How Parents Can Encourage Truthfulness by Paul Ekman.  While my kids do lie, and Robotson has been especially untruthful this past year, the reason I am reading this book is because Paul Ekman was the scientist that Cal Lightman was based on in Lie To Me.   I wanted to read all of his books, but could only find two in our library system so I checked out the one above and Telling Lies:  Clue to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage.  

The last two chapters in Why Kids Lie were written by Dr. Ekman's wife and at one point she describes a study where they grouped parental discipline into three categories:  power assertion (should be obvious), love withdrawal (anger and disappointment but no physical punishment), and induction (calmly explaining consequences of actions on others.) She writes that, "Induction won handily over power assertion and love withdrawal.  This means that a child has a better chance of internalizing the lesson and not repeating the behavior.  The child who is physically punished for his behavior, or who has love withdrawn, has less chance of incorporating the lesson.  The father who explains why missing the curfew worries him has a better chance of inculcating the lesson of responsibility and truth telling than the father who blows up."

I decided to run this idea by Robotson to see what he thought of it.  I didn't really expect him to talk much about it since he was in the middle of working on a mashup, but he jumped on it.  In fact, I think our conversation was incredibly mature and well-spoken, as if he'd been thinking about it for years.  First I asked him which approach he thought would work best and he immediately said that explaining consequences in a calm way was the most effective.  He made a point to emphasize calm as the key word.  I think B and I do talk a lot about consequences, but I am sure we are rarely very calm.  Then I asked him which parents we were and he said I am love withdrawal and B is more power assertion.

Robotson knows I've been reading this book, so I explained that I was wondering, in terms of being more truthful with parents, if the induction method would foster that in him.  He said yes.  We talked about how a lot of lies are told out of fear of punishment, being yelled at, or sent to his room.  But he thinks that if we always approached things calmly that he'd feel less compelled to lie.  He said, "I would still feel guilty if you told me calmly that what I did made you feel mad and disappointed, but I wouldn't be afraid."  He said he doesn't even really think about telling us a lie, it just comes out when we are really mad at him.

Then we talked a little bit about trust.  I explained that it's hard to trust someone who isn't honest.  He said it's hard to care about that when you think you are going to get into trouble.  I can certainly see his point.  I think it goes back to choosing your battles.  I know I overreact to minor offenses because they pile up day after day.  If I spent more time calmly explaining after the little stuff, then when something major happens that I really do need to correct immediately, he can see the difference in my approach.  Right now everything probably sounds the same and probably all gets filtered into the "avoid punishment at any cost" response.

Then I turned the tables and asked him about his own responses to similar situations, for example if one of the girls does something and he confronts them.  He was able to see how he was more of a power assertion type and that he would like to change that.  He suggested we try to remind each other when we are not taking a calm approach.  I think this is a great idea!  The key for both of us would be to listen and some of that has to do with how it is approached.  In the past I have been known to tell Robotson to calm down in a very agitated and commanding way.  I can see how this is probably not going to get me very far, or inspire me to calm down coming from an 11 year old who may have done something to cause me to be angry in the first place.

So overall, I am really enjoying the book.  It's a bit dated and there is more research out now about children, and lying in general.  One of the most interesting ideas is that liars have more connections in their brains. They are able to connect ideas that don't normally go together or are even based in reality.  If you think of that in terms of little kids who are forming new connections at amazing rates, it could be a very normal part of brain development that shouldn't be punished.  Instead, we should start the conversations about how honesty is important and how it differs from storytelling.  This plus being calm when we are confronted with a lie would probably go a long way in raising truthful kids.  At least that's what Robotson and I came up with when we talked about it tonight.  


  1. Wonderful post. Inductive instruction is very useful and powerful. I think it's okay to have honest emotions with your kids as well, as long as you express your anger, disappointment, sadness, or whatever in non-destructive and age appropriate ways.

  2. I agree. I make an effort to be mindful, but they don't always respond and I don't always keep my cool. If we aren't making mistakes, we aren't learning. :)