Truth or Consequences?

Raising responsible kids: I am no expert, but Eric and I have five kids between us, so we at least can claim ourselves well-practiced.  The key principle we live by? Truthfulness.

At our house, you hear us say things like these:

  • We would rather hear bad news than no news at all.
  • Do you think I would keep my job if I lied to my boss?
  • Tell us the truth, and we’ll reduce the punishment.  Lie to us and we’ll find out anyway and raise it.
  • If you lied like that to your friends, you’d have no friends.

All of our kids have lied to us about one thing or another.  Monday I posted some links to sites with parenting advice regarding lying.  Why get advice from professionals when you can read this blog and mess it up like me, though?!?

Certainly, kids go through a phase where lying is common and non-critical (young kids), but the stakes rise as they age.  We tackle lying as a “choose to lie, choose the consequences” foul, and we reward for truth telling by reducing the penalty associated with the underlying action.  We reserve the worst “consequences” for lying.  The consequences vary by child; while we make sure that they know what the probable consequences are up front, we select a consequence that will motivate that child.  Money (taking away allowance) incentivizes one.  Socializing is most important to another.  “Screens” is the pressure point for the third.  You get the picture.

Our system works well with our non-ADHD children.  Of course, they all believe they are smarter than us and will never get caught.   We must remain accountable for involved parenting, for setting up the structure of rules that motivate the kids to be accountable.  Showing up at home or an event earlier than expected or when not expected at all, just once or twice, works wonders.  Requiring receipts with change, like an employer would, encourages honesty.  Keeping the phone numbers of their friends’ parents in your mobile phone contacts makes the kids sit up a little straighter.  And friending all their friends on MySpace and Facebook works, too — over time they forget you are even there.

All bets are off, though, when it comes to lying and the ADHD child.  Lying is a symptom of ADHD, part of the “the only time frame is NOW or HUH????” aspect of their brains.  When our son takes his meds, his truthtelling (and helpfulness around the house) shoots up.    Without the meds…whoa, Nellie.  Clark only started taking medication in 2009.  Pre-2009 was not so pretty.

A few weeks before school was out for summer during the pre-medication days,  Clark (of Lacrosse Gloves Make Sense to Me, fame) got a note from his theater teacher that said he was failing the class because he hadn’t turned in an assignment.  The note required a parent’s signature.

Clark returned the note to his teacher signed Susie Johnson, and there ain’t no Susie Johnson in his family. The theater teacher emailed me to gently inquire/inform. Clark earned himself two hours outside labor every day for the rest of the summer, and zero tolerance on untruthfulness in any form, as a consequence.

Note: while lying may be a symptom of ADHD and while we try to guide him in a positive way about truthtelling, turning in a falsified note to a teacher raised the ante.

A few weeks later, my husband Eric casually mentioned to me that Clark needed to bring Eric’s mountain bike home from Clark’s father’s house, as it had been gone from our house for two weeks since Clark last borrowed it.  If you wanted to be a stickler about it — always a bad place to go with Clark — we forbade Clark to use Eric’s bike since Clark left it in the driveway repeatedly despite instruction to bring it inside.  Thieves already removed my daughter Sami’s bicycle from her father’s driveway.  And he lives in a nice neighborhood.   Our cars have been jacked twice in our driveway this year, and our neighborhood is super nice, too.  So, we can’t leave anything in driveways or the cars.

ANYWAY, Clark said he didn’t take the bicycle.  He claimed to have looked for it, and he promised us it wasn’t in his dad’s garage.

Well, we knew better than to leave it at that.  So we asked Sami:

“When was the last time you saw Eric’s bike, and where?”

Sami innately knows where everything is, partly due to this “knowing” being her special sixth sense skill, partly due to hyperawareness, and partly because she is a nosey little devil.  I’ll blog on her skills someday; they are amazing and funny.

Without hesitation, Sami said, “Clark rode it over to Dad’s.”

Hmmmm, Sami never errs about where things are, and she had no reason to think her answer would achieve the coveted result of getting Clark in trouble, yet.

Back to Clark…who now admitted, “Yes, I took the bike.  But I lost it.”

Lost it?  LOST IT? He swore he had no idea how he lost it or where he was when he noticed he lost it.

ARGH.  So, do we punish for lying, or “reward” by withholding punishment because our ADHD, unmedicated child chose truthfulness (“I lost the bike”) on the second go-round?  We decided just to have him work off the value of the bike in more outside labor over the summer.  This equated to 35 hours of outside labor in the Houston heat.  Added to his penalty for the falsified note, he now had FOUR hours a day.  He agreed to this as fair and got started that day.

His three parents (Mom, Step-Dad, Dad) wrung their hands and worried, but ultimately decided that our sedentary computer-gaming boy needed the exercise, and both father and step-father reported that they spent their summer days at his age performing manual labor outside for their fathers.  So, no cruel and unusual punishment.  I was actually more concerned about the impact on us of having to enforce the work rule.  This was going to be tough.

But we are not yet through with this tale of woe.  We still aimed to find this bicycle and bring it back to its mother ship — our athlete-family’s game room houses seven bicycles on wall hooks, and it looks sorta like the pods in Alien. Clark’s dad offered continued help on his end.

Thennnnnnnn, days later, Clark called from his father’s house.

“Welllllllll Mom,  I looked harder in Dad’s garage and found it.”

OK, how big, you may ask, is this garage?  Is it like the multi-acre museum/lab in Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, or is it just a standard garage?  Is it cluttered like Eric’s great-aunt’s house was after 40 years of collecting magazines and action figurines, or more like most people’s messy but functional garages?  The answer: standard two car garage, super-neat.

“OOOOKKKKK,” I said to prompt him to speak further.

Before I could even finish getting the word out, I heard his father in the back ground.

“Clark, own it.”

Uh oh.

And Clark says, “Uh, I left it at school and Dad found it chained to the bike rack up there.”

School had been out for 2 weeks at this point!!

The dreaded untruthfulness  had raised its head again, while zero tolerance was in force.  And why would any child agree to 35 hours of outside labor in the summer in Houston rather than just going to look for the darn bike?  His dad ultimately is the one who found it! This, my friends, is Clark.

For the last lie, we canceled Clark’s computer camp.  That caused a 6.7 magnitude Clark-quake.  So, we sent him to see my parents for a few weeks to cool off.

His grandparents live on a farm. He visited them for two weeks, and the penalty remained in force there.  During week one, he assisted my father, and it was a great experience for them both. See picture of him learning to drive the big tractor, which he used to cut fields of grass and mow the four wheeler path. He also helped his grandmother pack up the home of his great grandmother for another week.  His paternal grandfather came to visit him in Houston when Clark returned, and Clark assisted his for an additional two weeks.  The work and the bonding were a great experience for grandparents and grandchild.

That got us through half the summer.

The rest is a blur, but the yard sure looked nice.

Do our kids lie to us?  Well, I once was a kid, and folks, I lied.  I assume my kids get away with lying to us, too.  We do the best we can, though, and they’re awfully good kids, even that darn Clark.  Did I mention how much we love his ADHD medication? 😉

The bike is hanging on its rack in our game room, no worse for the wear.


9 Responses to “Truth or Consequences?”
  1. Christina says:

    1. I gotta meet this kid.

    2. I don’t have kids so I can’t vote, but I will say that getting chased around the dining room table by my father always did some magic.

  2. Pamela says:

    1. You should. He is hilarious.
    2. Now it all becomes clear…

  3. Stephanie says:

    I’m ever so grateful that I’ve found on-line folks just like me and my husband who are going through similar things with our ADHD son. On the one hand, I feel bad when other parents are struggling. On the other, I’m just glad we’re not alone. Loved your article. I never really thought about the connection between deferring punishment and the ADHD brain. Thanks!

    • Pamela says:

      Glad you found “Truth or Consequences.” I don’t think I fully understood or believed the link between deferring punishment/lying and the ADHD brain until my son started taking Concerta…and quit lying. Overnight. He started talking in paragraphs, holding conversations, standing (roughly) still, and walking up and helping me load the dishwasher without being asked. He blurted out odd or insensitive statements less. Etc. And for every time I had yelled at him or grounded him or taken away screens or cried with frustration over his lying, I felt the most crushing guilt. I still feel it. I believe it is my job to teach him the difference between truth and lie, despite ADHD, but I wish I had known, really known, what I know now, and I had been gentler. He still seems to love me, though. Aren’t kids resilient!?

Check out what others are saying...
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  2. […] Clark’s difficulties became more pronounced.  From a sheer brain power and creativity perspective, he soared.  But he now regularly lied to us about schoolwork and chores.  Still, everyone kept giving him a thumbs-up.  I wondered where I was failing as a parent that he was so untruthful, but I was reassured by, again,… […]

  3. […] to communicate frequently with your kids about this issue and make it safe for them to talk to you; reward truths when you can, rather than punishing a child’s bad choices.  We also believe in keeping our kids busy; […]

  4. […] room that Clark did not have the organization and initiative to put his room in order.  I planned his “consequence” for his bad choice about the laundry, then I congratulated myself on being the nicest Mom in the history of the world […]

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