Lying, Stealing, and Negative Attention Seeking | Teaching Self-Government

Lying, Stealing, and Negative Attention Seeking


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10 Years Old And Needs Calmness

“I love your book.  In many ways, your book has helped our family.  I am faced with a situation that I don’t know what to do about....My son is 10 years old and we have had him since he was a couple of days old.  From a very young age he was incredibly difficult to deal with.  He constantly seeks our attention.  He steals, lies, destroys property, etc.  We have alarms on all food and expensive items.  He loses 24 hours of privileges at least once a week, often more than that.  We were excited one week when he made it 5 days in a row without losing 24 hours.  I have really given several parenting books/programs extremely good efforts to no avail.  BCLC was the first time we saw hope but I found that he really needed consequences.  We’ve been doing your program for a bit and while we are seeing some things really change, others are not changing.  It doesn’t seem to matter how many times we do the same thing over and over, he still thinks a different outcome will happen.”

Trust In The Process


You are right about your child needing consequences. He does not fully understand cause and effect. It sounds like you are diligently teaching it to him. That is good. I have never met your darling son, so I will advise based on what I have read from you and what I feel the situation may be. I also want you to know that I had a foster daughter who had the same list of issues. As we were consistent and as she grew she progressed.  I could take time to talk about RAD (reactive attachment disorder) or list a number of other things which could be going on, but it wouldn't matter because the behaviors would still be there. Either way you look at it, you have to help him learn to self govern, and want happiness in your home.

I have lived with children as you describe and know progress is possible. Take encouragement from that please. You absolutely must trust that he can be taught, that you are the one meant to teach him and that in time miracles will happen. Trust is the hardest part of teaching anyone anything. It is the part which requires faith in a process. You have never been through his exact process so it is hard for you to trust that he will learn and grow out of this. He will. I know. I have seen it. Trust.

He Destroyed Family Movie Night

“On Saturday, we let the kids know that whoever was helping out with all of the household chores would get to watch a movie with the rest of the family.  This child is actually a good worker, but lately he isn’t wanting to do any work at all (another story).  He didn’t help out at all and actually was taunting his brother who was putting in a great deal of time around the house. 

Movie time came and he was insistent that he would get to watch the movie with everyone else.  I asked him to go to his room and he smiled, gave us a hug and went to his room.  He thought I would let him watch because of his wonderful attitude.  When he found that he wasn’t going to get to see the show he started ripping up his special papers.  I asked him to please not rip (the sound was interrupting the movie)  but he continued.  There was an inch thick of paper when he finally decided to stop.  He then proceeded to kick the papers in to the hall (as loudly as possible).  Occasionally he would come in and apologize, I would say something like, “if you are sorry, please go in to your room and let us enjoy our movie.” 

He then would get angry again and say he was going to get scissors so he could ruin the laminated pictures as well.  I asked him to clean the papers up and that started another round of interrupting our movie to be loud and obnoxious.  He eventually did clean the papers up, apologized again and went to bed.  The movie was nearly over at this point.  The movie was interrupted so many times that it was ruined for the rest of us.  Obviously he received the negative attention that he desired.  What should I have done differently?  This kind of thing happens often.”

Lots Of Emotion


This is quite a story. I am so sorry you are feeling so much contention in your home and your relationship with your son. He is definitely seeking attention, positive and negative. The nice thing is that he is still seeking both. That means you can encourage the positive by giving more of it. Praise is the most effective teaching style of the five teaching styles. You can even praise when things are not completely right. Praise the portions which are right so that he will continue to seek those praises. Now, if he really has RAD there could not be any really rhyme or reason to whether he seeks positive or negative except that he just wants to feel control over you and his surrounding by making a change in emotion.

Whether this is the case or not, you need to practice and remember one of my biggest rules of thumb with difficult children and behaviors. “It doesn't bug me.” I have chosen not to be bugged. I have chosen to be emotionally unaffected by negative behaviors. This is a very hard choice to follow through with at first, but is possible. Just like when you are potty training, or teaching a child to read, you can't be affected when the child does things wrong. When they mess up, you say nothing, help out and move on, but if they do things right, you praise.

Consistency Pays Off

I had multiple foster children with RAD, and one in particular which had almost the exact kinds of behaviors you describe. I would like you to know she is now a very normal, healthy adult mother who finds joy in life. He will change as you are consistently teaching cause and effect and trusting in his ability to learn even when he doesn't look like he is making progress.

What I Would Do

The first step is what I have already mentioned; you must make yourself stay calm and not care about the bad behaviors. He is trying to manipulate your emotions for control. That is why he apologizes, acts out, and then does something good. He lies and uses his emotions as the biggest part of the lie. He can choose to change; I've seen it done. Keep analyzing all his communications with him, and he will improve by seeing cause and effect better.

The second thing I would do: analyze everything. When he has communicated dishonestly say, “just now you said.....that was a dishonest statement. You should have said...........You have earned.........Let's practice.” Explain to him before a situation even happens that if you ever feel he has lied or taken anything he will earn a negative consequence because you know he needs to be caught every time to choose to stop these behaviors. Consistency. By telling him ahead of time, you don't ever need to question whether your feelings are wrong, and neither does he. Teach him to disagree appropriately. Then if you feel good about the disagreement you can change your mind.

Either way, he has to stay calm. Nothing else will work for him.

Also, he is obviously a very anxious boy. Make sure you pre-teach every time you are going to talk to him about something. “Brian, I am going to talk to you about accepting a consequence. Do you remember that skill?” Go over the skill if necessary and then do the correction.

I could go on and on about these behaviors because they are so complex and require a lot of diligence. Choose your tone for your home and stick with it. Choose the tone you will use to correct negative behaviors and the tone you will use to praise positive things and do them.

He Was Showing You He Can Control Himself

Regarding the movie story: You say your son was acting out and then magically switched to giving you a hug and going happily to his room. This shows he has the ability and self control to control himself when he chooses to. That is your proof. He can do it and will in time.

If You Could Redo It

You asked me what you could have done differently. This is what I would have done in your situation. At the very beginning I would have made sure I told my son I was going to give him an instruction and make sure he understood the positive and negative consequences for not following the instruction, and remembered the steps. Sounds like you did a pre-teach like this except he may not have recognized it as an instruction. Then I would give the instruction.

After, I would have done a corrective teaching and follow through with the consequences because my son was not following instructions to help clean up. In my home he would earn an extra chore for not following instructions. I would do this corrective teaching calmly and without emotion.

If my son became upset or aggressive at this point I would go straight to doing the Rule of Three, from the book. If he chose to go completely out of instructional control, then I would suggest to the family that they take my laptop out to the yard or somewhere else and have a drive-in movie while I stay inside and read. I would do this because I would want to stay with my child more than I would want to watch a movie at that point. He would sit in his room, or on the couch until he calmed down and I would read and talk to him about calming down every 10-20 minutes.

Note About Your Self Government

It is important to note with a child like this that can't ever show that they have hurt you. Their manipulations can't work for them to learn how to conquer themselves. They need to look more at themselves and less at you. So, you can't ever feel over powered or cheated if you miss a movie or party etc to be with them. Always enjoy your time, no matter what you are doing. This is a conscious choice you make; and can be a hard one if you are used to looking at yourself as a victim of other people's emotional outbursts.

You see, your son knows how bad you want to watch that movie and he also knows what you want the experience to be like for the rest of the family. He wants to control these desires. This is why he is manipulating by trying good things and threats of bad things to ruin the event. In your heart you don't care about the movie that much. So, don't set your heart on having the movie time. Don't let him feel victory by causing you to miss it. Express how happy you are that you get an opportunity to read a book you have wanted to read. No emotion.

Good Choice Mom

You were great about not showing any emotion over the cutting up of papers! You were unaffected. That is good. I would only go through the steps I present in the power of calm presentation in a situation like this. The only exception I would make to this is if your child is going to hurt himself, others, or damage property. At this point, you would want to do a soft hold on him. I am going to write another blog post on this.

He is power struggling, manipulating, and negative attention seeking, so you cannot give attention to negative behaviors. Only analyze calmly and instruct to choose calmness. Don't ever ask him to be calm. This gives him the idea that he has power over you. Only instruct. Manipulating can't ever work for him to be inspired to stop the behavior.

Again, stay calm. Nothing effects you, and nothing is as important as the feeling of calmness in your home. Power struggling only works if someone power struggles back. This suggests to me that sometimes he is getting a rise out of you and liking it, or he wouldn't keep power struggling. The whole family needs to know how to not allow power struggles to bother them. They need to know what power struggles are, and what to say in response. If the whole family understands effective communication, and the power struggles never work on anyone then they will more likely decrease.

Loving Him Anyway

Last, it sounds like you are falling out of love with your son. You need to seek to love him, even during the middle of a tantrum. The love from your heart will be felt even when he rejects your company. For his heart to be changed he needs to feel a changed, loving heart, and improve his relationship with you. Does he treat others this way such as church teachers and grandparents? If not, then you can know he is saving it for you, which means the two of your have developed a habit of bad communication. That is something you can do something about. Communication is fixable, but takes self government on your part.

I could talk at length about repairing relationships, but don't have time here.  

The Problem Runs Deep

“We homeschool and he is always hiding his brothers books.  I have to literally wear my other son’s books so that we can get through the school day without them going missing.  After he loses privileges, I try to ignore his behavior, but it really does push my buttons.  He is ruining glass doors, walls, electronics, etc.  Please help!  I don’t want locks on the doors for the rest of his stay here.  My other kids need some reprieve as well.  Oh, and I forgot to mention one thing.  The morning after all of this, he acted over happy and perfect.  I know I should have rewarded this behavior, but I was so upset that he didn’t even acknowledge his actions the night before.”

The book hiding is negative attention seeking and is typical of RAD children, should he have those tendancies. He is practically screaming for attention. Make sure you give lots of positive attention when there isn't a problem. Do you have personal dates, mentor sessions, and parent counseling sessions with him for relationship building? I would make those things regular. See the book for specific instructions on these things. Give him a no answer about taking books ever, and then if he does it again, he has earned an extra chore. It is okay for him to choose loss of privileges if he wants to, just make sure you have multiple family activities in a week so that he doesn't choose to disconnect from you.

Here is a random thought. What is this child's love language? Are you speaking it? He gave you a hug. Is it touch? Can you do more in that area to make him feel more secure and less apt to attention seek?

Follow Your Gut Feeling

Regarding the morning after his tantrum. You are right. You should have praised him for his happiness and talked to him about how you would like him to be able to always be happy and share the keys to happiness with him, which are essentially the four basic skills and learning how to stay calm.

The fact that he was “over happy” the next day says that he either was manipulating to try to make your forget about his previous behavior and not have to pay consequences he earned, or that he was well rested and ready for a fresh start. Either way, it shows he is capable of choosing to be happy.

In this circumstance I would pull him aside privately. Private is always better. In this conversation I would praise him for his choice to be happy, and affirm that his decision will make a great day for him. Then, since he was obviously out of instructional control the night before I would calmly pre-teach and explain what he had earned for choosing to be out of control. At this point I would praise him for accepting his consequence and help him follow through with what he has earned. Remember to let him know what his day will be like if he accepts his consequence, and what it will be like if he doesn't accept his consequence before you tell him what it is. Not, that the consequence would ever be a surprise for a child whose family is using a solid family government.

Through this experience in the morning he learns that you don't forget, he can't manipulate and get out of things, and that he has to accept what he did and what the effects of his decision are. If you let things go, hoping he will stay calm, you are still in the power struggle. He has the power and he knows it. You would be allowing him to manipulate you with his emotions.

A Vision For The Future

In the end, even if he gets angry about having to accept a consequence, you have to give him the opportunity to see what he did and pay his consequences, or he will have failed relationships for life and not accept the responsibility of his own decisions. We are making adults, not perfect children, so we can't just let things happen and not talk about it. We also do our children injustices if we don't require them to follow the rules of cause and effect. Once he learns these rules, he will be so much more emotionally free and happy. And, after all, that is what we are really trying to accomplish as parents right?

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