For most people, their own parents are the primary model for how to be a parent – good or bad. After that, we are greatly influenced by the characters we see in TV and movies. As I’ve mentioned before, the current gold-standard for TV dads is Bandit Heeler, but sitcoms and movies have forever been a source of parental role models. However, I’ve recently found useful inspiration on parenting from a different type of character – the movie lawyer.
It has been a recent trend in our family that my kids are dirty liars. Every different scenario essential comes down to this: one person is crying and two kids have different stories about why.
“She hit me!”
“No I didn’t!”
One of them is lying, and it’s my job to find out who. Lucky, I’ve watched enough courtroom scenes over the years to be adequately prepared. I’ve picked up some techniques from some of my favorites, and they are pretty effective.
The Daniel Kaffee Technique: Let Them Get Themselves In Trouble
This is probably my go to. Not only because it comes from one of the best scenes from one of the best movies of all time, but it really works. Added bonus that it sets up a nice “ah-ha!” moment when you really nail the little liar. The strategy here is to keep asking them questions until they contradict themselves and then turn their own answers back on them.
In a recent application I found out that my older daughter hit her younger sister, not on accident as she was walking by as she originally claimed (which was a flimsy excuse to begin with), but very much on purpose.
“Where were you walking when you bumped into her? Where were you going? Why were you walking there? Where was she standing? If it was an accident, why didn’t you just say sorry? Because she was being annoying? What was she doing that was annoying? But you said she was standing over there, that’s why you bumped into her, right?” – and there it is. Kaffee time.
“No, that’s not what you said. I said “Where were you walking?” and you said “to get my clothes” but that’s not what you’re saying now. I can have mom come in and repeat back what you said if you don’t remember. If you’re claiming she hit you first, then it wouldn’t have been an accident at all. You hit her because that’s exactly what you want to wasn’t it!”
The challenge here is not not just go right to laying down the law, but in going through the exercise. I knew who was lying and who was telling the truth, but the fun is in getting your kid to admit the lie. It’s a longer game for sure. In the case of my daughter, a three day long game. Even after catching her in the lie, it still took her three days to finally come out and admit the lie. When the kid is that level of stubborn, a more forceful approach may be necessary.
The Cousin Vinnie: Right to the Point
I’ve got questions, and you’re going to answer them. I’m not here to go through procedures, I’m here to get to the bottom of what happened. Also helps to use visual aids.
“Did you bite your sister? No? Then how did she get these bite marks on her hand? What’s this red spot on her hand? What are these little dents that look like teeth? Why does her hand look like that if you didn’t bite her? Look at her hand, these right here, they look like your teeth?Are you sure about not biting her? Are you sure about that?”
Am I a little worried about coming a cross as a bully to a two year-old? Maybe. But does applying pressure get him to break down and admit he bit? You bet.
This also comes in handy for cloud control if you have a third party witness who feels the need to add their point of view to the proceedings. I have three kids so in most cases when two are fighting the third one feels compelled to chime in, so Cousin Vinnie reminds me to address my line of questioning specifically to the people directly involved.
“Evie – AND ONLY EVIE – where was your hand when you say your brother bit it?”
Both the Kaffee and the Cousin Vinnie are pretty easy to default to, as are both rooted in your having all the information and generally being in a position of power – which as a parent, you are. A fun alternative is to play dumb.
Caveman Lawyer: I’m Just So Confused
This is similar to the Kaffee in that you are letting the kid get themself in trouble with their own words, but in this strategy you aren’t asking any tricky or pressing questions, you are asking the obvious and playing it dumb. Also good to get one kid to turn on the other, because odds are somebody will answer the obvious questions with the obvious answer – the truth.
“How did the crayon get on the wall? If it wasn’t you, then I just don’t understand? Who else couldn’t it possibly be? Did Grandpa come over, color on the walls, and then leave? I just don’t get who could have done this. I mean, it happened in your room, on your walls, with your crayons….I just don’t get it.”
My daughter once tried to blame the Easter Bunny for coloring on the walls. Caveman Lawyer provided the perfect technique to respond. I didn’t call her a liar, I didn’t get overly upset, I was just so confused as to why the Easter Bunny would come all this way just to write on our living room walls.
A similar approach would be the Joe Miller (Denzel Washington’s character in Philadelphia), where asks somebody explain the situation to him like he’s a 5 year-old. Another way of dubbing it down to the basics, but my kids actually are 5 year-olds so that aspect of the approach is lost on them for now. But you better believe I’m busting that out when they are teenagers trying to explain why they came home after their curfew.
Ideally, I wouldn’t need these techniques. Perhaps a better parent role model would be one that found a way to raise their kids so they don’t lie about stuff in the first place. Which I suppose would be Bluey’s dad. So there you have it, the ability to raise kids who never lie to try to get out of being in trouble is as realistic as a talking archaeologist Australian dog.