Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tatted Mom's Guide to Catching a Child Liar

"Mom! Um, my brother just said a bad word. He was trying to tell me a joke, then he said the 'F' word," is what my daughter came hauling into the living room to tell us yesterday. Hubby immediately called my son into the room, and his interrogation began. My son, of course, said that his sister was lying, and that she just wanted him to get into trouble. Thus the problem any parent eventually faces- catching the real liar.

My husband's method is simple. Stand his ground, ask the same question over and over again, and eventually pull out the 'If you tell the truth, I promise, you won't get in trouble.' Wait, deja-vu...

I was 16. I had my own car, and a job at the local grocery store to pay for said car. And, I was a smoker. (Gasp, I know.) I used to hide my cigarettes from my parents in between the seats in my car, but for some reason one day, after picking up a friend of mine for school, and driving around having our final nicotine fit before the grueling 7 hours of school, I decided to put the pack in the glove compartment. Apparently, that same day, my new insurance card came in the mail, and my dad, being a good samaritan, decided to drive up to the school, and just put the new insurance card in my glove compartment for me while I was in class, because I had to leave school that day and head straight to work. Yeah, you know where this is going....

I get out of school, go fumbling for my cigarettes, and find the new insurance card sitting directly on top of the pack. Immediately my friend and I panic. She steps up to the plate, and says, 'Tell your dad they're mine. He knows you pick me up for school in the morning and take me home in the afternoon, just tell him they are mine.' Problem solved, I'm going to lie. So, sure enough, my dad calls (maybe he just showed up at work- the memory is a little fuzzy) during my break, and immediately wants to know about the cigarettes. So, out comes the pre-planned lie. Dad sits there for a second, then says those famous words, 'Morgan, I don't want you to lie to me. If you tell me the truth, you won't get in trouble.' Here's my moment to be a 'good kid', to redeem myself, to stand up for what I did wrong, and to not get in trouble with it. 'Ok, dad, they're mine.' Without hesitation, I hear, 'You're grounded for a week.'

WAIT A SECOND!! You said I wouldn't get in trouble if I told the truth!!! My dad's reply to that? 'It was going to be a month, but since you told the truth, I cut it down to a week.' HOLD ON! You were believing the story that they were my friend's, so had I never told the truth, there would have been no month to get grounded. Blasted all.....

Yes, that moment taught me a very good lesson that I carried through with me the rest of my teenage years- make the lie believable, and stick to it at all costs.

Back to the present. Apparently it's a father thing, because my hubby used the same technique on my son. After what seemed to be days (with Z and I having to hide under blankets because we were laughing so hard), my son finally confessed to the joke gone wrong, apologized to his sister for lying on her, and yes, did not get in trouble, as his dad had promised, because he had told the truth.

All this did was remind me of my method of making a child liar talk.

About a year ago, my mom, my kids and I went grocery shopping. My daughter, 7 at the time, wanted a Snickers bar at the checkout. No Snickers bar, honey, not today. We leave the grocery store, get home, my daughter's jacket mysteriously tied around her waist even though it's 40 degrees outside, and she heads straight to her room, saying she's going to go read. My mom, sensing something is up, sneaks back to my daughter's room, peers through the cracked door to find my daughter eating a Snickers bar. Mom comes running into the kitchen, asking me if I bought my daughter the candy, and upon my answer of no, tells me what's going on. Oh, it's on...

I sit my daughter directly in front of me at the kitchen table.

'Where did you get the Snickers?'
'Where at school?'
'I won it.'
'Won it doing what?'
'Playing Bingo.'
'In class.'
'You won at Bingo?'
'Very good. What subject were you playing Bingo in?'
'How did you win the Snickers?'

I see the shell beginning to break, she starts getting frustrated...

'Bingo. I told you, mom.'
'Why were you playing Bingo in class?'
'We had a substitute.'
'Where was your teacher?'
'So, the substitute played Bingo with y'all?'
'In what class?'

Her face starts to get red...

'And how did you get the Snickers?'
'I won.'
'Won what?'
'How did you win?'
'What? I don't understand.'
'What letter did she call out that made you win?'

The tears formed, my daughter hung her head, crying, 'I stole the Snickers bar from the grocery store.'

It took everything in me not to jump up and do a victory dance.

This interrogation session lasted less than 2 minutes. I was firing questions back at her as soon as an answer came out of her mouth. I was prepared to go the long haul with this one until she broke, just start at the beginning again, repeating all of the questions. But, only one round was necessary.

FYI here, I did drive her back up to the grocery store, made her take the half eaten candy bar to the customer service desk, explain what she did, apologize, then pay for it. I even went as far as to ask the manager if they wanted to call the cops on her, to which the manager stifled a smile and said it wouldn't be necessary. Yes, she has never shoplifted since.

Tatted Mom's Guide to Catching a Child Liar

So, things to keep in mind when attempting Tatted Mom's method of getting a child liar to talk:

  1. Make Them Think You Believe Them. That's what the interrogation is all about; getting as many details out of them about their lie to trip them up and make them break. So, don't go at them with 'I know you are lying, tell me the truth.' Go at them with, 'Really? The baseball just magically broke the window all by itself? That's amazing. Now, sit down. Where did this magical baseball come from? What were you doing at the time this magical baseball went crashing through the window? How much did you pay for the magical baseball?' You get the idea?
  2. Don't Laugh. Very similar to dealing with Kids and Cussing, laughing is the last thing you want to do. I'm glad hubby took control yesterday with my son, because I had a case of the giggles something fierce. So, muster up all you can, and then, when it's over, hide in the closet and laugh hysterically.
  3. Stay Strong. Sometimes these interrogation sessions can seem to last forever. Make sure that you are able to give it the time and energy it deserves so that your little liar breaks, and you come out victorious.
  4. Sit Eye Level With Them. Standing above them only makes their defenses go up even more. If you sit across from them, make them look you in the eye, they'll break quicker. Plus, you can pick up on body language more when sitting across from them.
  5. Don't Give Them Time to Think. Thinking = more lies. Fire questions at them rapidly, repeat yourself as much as possible to give yourself time to think up new questions, but don't pause. If you give them time to think, they'll just try and think of a non-truthful way out of this.
  6. Zone in On Their Weaknesses. You see them start to get flustered or red faced? Press harder. If you catch them, in the interrogation process, saying something that contradicts what they've already said, call them on it immediately and with power. Your end goal is to have them wanting to tell you the truth, to be (figuratively) down on their knees begging you to have the interrogation stop. 
  7. Separate Multiple Offenders. If you are trying to figure out who is lying amongst siblings, do separate interrogations, and don't allow the others to watch. They'll pick up on your methods and use them against you in their interrogation. The only time it is acceptable to interrogate multiple offenders at the same time is if the offenders are working together on this lie. Separating them will still yield a higher success rate, but keeping them together has the benefits of watching their body language to each other, the looks, the stares, the frustration if one isn't telling the story correctly, and a greater sense of victory in the end, of taking two down at the same time. 
  8. Refrain From Promising Anything. I just wouldn't pull the whole 'If you tell me the truth, you won't get in trouble.' If you stick to that, the kid might think they can continue lying. If you don't stick to it, they'll be like me and just lie smarter. If you find yourself starting to say it, add 'as much' before the word 'trouble'. Then, explain that when (not 'if') you find out the truth, they will be grounded for a month, but, if they tell the truth now, it will only be 3 days. Let them weigh the consequences.
  9. Celebrate After They Are Gone. Do your victory dance after the offender has confessed, proper punishment been decided, and you've sent them off to their room to think about what just happened and how the hell mom got the information out of them. Then yell, scream, laugh, shake your ass, whatever you want to celebrate your victory. You earned it!!
Now, I know my method works well with children between the ages of 5 and 12. Once you start getting into the older age bracket, I really am not quite sure of the success rate, because older kids are way sneakier, and can pick up on what mom's doing, thus possibly using it against you. It's more successful on girls than boys; they tend to break more quickly. And, the more rapidly you fire these hypothetical questions, the shorter the interrogation period. So, keep all of that in mind, as well.

A word of caution, though; A sense of complete world domination will follow one of these successful interrogation sessions. You'll be completely in the zone during the session, firing away question after question, watching them fidget and start to break, pressing harder until the truth comes out, and when it does, you'll feel like you can take over the world. Do gracefully hold this over the child's head in the form of looks that say, 'Mom is QUEEN, and don't forget it!', but remember to remain grounded. After having gone through one of these, the child may get smarter to your technique, and the next one may not be as easy. Just remain firm, stay level-headed, and you will remain top dog!


  1. HAHA... Perfect example of the saying, "If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything" - Mark Twain

    You may have been an interrogator in a former life :)

  2. Awesome post!!! great tips, I'm totally going to try that rapid fire interrogation. I've got a 13 year old and man is she getting sneaky!

    I found you on TMC and glad I did, I'll have to come back to ya.

  3. We are dealing in splatters with Monk telling "little" fibs. He's only 3, but knowing the light's not off, and him telling us it is. I'm sure I will be in your shoes here in a bit!

  4. I like the rapid fire... well done!

  5. My mom did this with me and I just figured out that it didn't matter what I said, since I was lying, as long as I remembered it. I rarely ever won though, it is a really good trick!