Bill Strong Denver Counseling for Children and Families here.
I recently was contacted by a parent (who has given me permission to blog about this) who asked if it was possible for her child to be unaware of a recent rule violation. The parent emailed me the following (George is the child, Frank is the spouse):
Hi Bill – is it possible for George to be lying and honestly not realize it? I found Frank’s I-Pod in George’s bed and when I confronted George about it he said he didn’t know it was there and that he didn’t take it. A tantrum followed because he kept saying he didn’t take it. Frank had asked both our sons about it last week and both said they didn’t know where it was. The cleaning ladies were here Thursday so the beds would have been completely stripped and they would have found it. Also the I-pod was on a game.
I have taken all electronics away and have why lying hurts any trust we had in him. But he just says he wasn’t lying and it’s all my fault.
I responded with the following email:
I’m sorry to hear about this recent episode. To answer your question, I’ve done this for a long time and can count on my hand the times where a kid saying “I don’t remember” is actually accurate. That would be highly unusual, and the result of some type of fugue state (dissociative fugue or psychogenic).
Instead, it’s usually where the child sees no benefit in owning up to the lie…so in this situation a child claims to “not remember” when they are totally busted and adds to their position by being very insulted and upset that they aren’t believed. I’d guess that is the case here.
One idea is to tell him something like “Gee, well although you’ll certainly be in trouble if you’re lying, I’d be even more worried if you don’t remember this event at all. It’s clear that you took the I-Pod, played a game on it, and hid it in your bed. Not remembering something you’ve done is just not normal and would mean that we’d probably need to get a doctor like a neurologist involved to do some testing. I sure hope that’s not necessary”…etc…”Why don’t you take some time and think about it. Things are shut down (nothing social or electronic) until we figure this out”.
I want the incentive to owning up to the event and lie, to be that he can go through the consequence and then move on. Until you know the truth, there is no moving on.
I’m not sure this is what I’d call wisdom, but it’s the best I have right now.
Let me know how it goes!
I was emailed back that my suggestion “Worked like a charm.”
This is a very common problem with children who are being asked to tell the truth about something they’ve done that gets them in trouble. “I don’t remember doing it” is an attempt to avoid ownership of the event. As I said in my email to Janet, unless “not remembering” becomes a problem for the child, there is an incentive to have this selective amnesia.
I have often seen “not remembering” by a child after an act of aggression or a temper tantrum. It’s true that once a child is in a very upset state, he/she might lose track of time, but I rarely think the child forgets specific acts or actions.
So…give the above suggestion a try when needed. We don’t “move on” and things are “shut down” until the child owns his/her part. Like Janet, I think you’ll find this works like a charm.
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