Ask 1-on-1 Coaching: “Is It OK to Accuse Your Child of Something without Concrete Proof?”

Posted May 15, 2009 by

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You thought you had $25 in your purse the last time you checked, but now you have $20 and can’t remember buying anything lately. Or maybe your daughter says she’s sleeping over at her best friend’s house, but all you hear her talk about is her boyfriend…you wonder, could she end up over there tonight?

Are there times when you’ve suspected your child may be behaving inappropriately but don’t know for sure?  As a parent, it is very likely that you will run into a situation where you have a hunch, but no concrete proof, that you’re child has made a poor choice.  This can be especially tricky because you want your child to be held accountable for breaking the rules; yet, it doesn’t necessarily make the most sense to accuse them of wrongdoing, only to end up being mistaken.

The truth is, if you don’t have concrete proof, you cannot confront your child about your concerns without running the risk of hurting your relationship if you are wrong.  Even if you have some observable way to tie your child to an inappropriate action, coming at your child in an accusatory manner isn’t helpful because it leads to labeling and asking the “Why did you do this?” question.

So what’s the answer?

In the Total Transformation program, James Lehman explains that when you label your child a “liar” or call them lazy, they will see themselves in that role — and they will be even less likely to change, because they will reason that “It’s just who I am.” So when accusations are being made, the child is learning that we expect the worst from them; and it will also make them less open to learning new skills.

As for the “why” question, realize that it will only serve to propel your child into excuse-making mode. And those excuses are exactly what prevent them from addressing how the problem could be solved differently in the future.

I think a valuable thing for parents to remember is:  “Don’t treat your feelings as facts.”  James Lehman calls this “emotionalizing” and it is a type of faulty thinking.  It’s normal to have fears as a parent when it comes to what your child may be doing, but making decisions solely based on your suspicions is not effective.  Usually, having a ‘gut instinct’ about something can be viewed as an indication to pay closer attention to your child’s behavior and actions.  Instead of accusing your child, you can approach them and state that you’d like to have a conversation about something that you’ve been noticing that “doesn’t quite make sense” or “doesn’t seem right”; you’re basically looking to enlist them for help in gathering information.

This is a situation where natural consequences make a lot of sense: if you think something is up, make sure to get more involved by asking questions and monitoring your child more closely.  This is not meant to be a punishment, but merely a means for you as a parent to examine what’s happening with your child so that you can help them if necessary.


As a 1-on-1 Coach, Tina Wakefield coached parents on techniques from the Total Transformation, as well as Empowering Parents' other programs, for over 8 years. Tina is also a mother and stepmother.

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  1. concerned grandma (Edit) Report

    19 y.o. raised by divorced parents where mother was over protective and father verbally abusive. 19 y.o. girl has moved out of the house suddenly and claimed herself to be bisexual (had only been known to date boys prior to this). Now the mother says she can’t condone this for her daughter (not because she is gay but because she doesn’t believe her daughter is truly gay given her history) and she won’t have a relationship with her daughter as this would be condoning her behavior.

  2. lynnie111 (Edit) Report

    Jids lie to get attion that they so lack from theire.Like my niece so to say.She is three or four years older the her little baby brother.william.He is like5 years old joe ann is like 9 or 10.So she sees her mother giving all of the love and the attion to his litle brother.And then the mother walks aa way still holding her little brother and the mother tells her daughter to go ge ready for bed.And then shbe says your brother wants to sleep with me tonight.the mother dose not say good night to her daughter then the mother goesto the daugter now,now,now.yelling at her daughter amd telling the little boy sorry did I scare you when I yelled.Then the motherr goes to her daughter now you see what you have donwe you made me yell at your little brother.And then she go,go on get to bed i said .your lucky i dont take awway the tv tomarrow.Why are you always the bad one.Then she says why cant you be more like your little brother.How would that make you feel.Like your not needed not wanted like your little brot her.And you no the same thing withj a no when he is chewing up your realy nice fluffy flufy cozy warm slippers that you paid almost $200 for.And that you only had thenm home for one night and then the dog drewled over them.and you were going to wear them to night,Before you get mad at the dog witch just adds more astress to your life.A little guy you want sdome love and attion.Oh well little puppy you are more important then a pair of ratty new slipppers arent you.Not only will you see a big difference in the dog.but you will notice a big differernce in your daughter or son.not right a way give it some time and you will be more happier with your self and your children.And so dose it say that they live happliey ever after .

  3. Tina Wakefield (Edit) Report

    Dear Jill,

    You’re absolutely right that kids use one-way training on their parents by being verbally abusive and intimidating so that they are left alone. If that’s going on in your home, it needs to be dealt with firmly. It takes a lot of determination and strength on the parent’s part not to give up asking those important questions — and more importantly, not to refrain from setting limits. Like you mentioned, even when you ask questions, you may not get an answer. This doesn’t change the fact that trying to communicate with your child is necessary. It’s going to be a more effective alternative than labeling them or accusing them. What they need to see is that even if they choose not to pour their hearts out about the details of their lives, you care what’s going on with them and you’re going to make sure to stay involved and hold them accountable for their behavior. Most importantly you’re going to guide them in finding better and healthier ways to solve their problems.

    Lastly, you mentioned that you could also be dealing with lying. James Lehman would suggest that you treat that like any other inappropriate behavior that carries a consequence. You have to look at what problem your child is trying to solve that’s necessitating the lying, and help them to solve it differently. I’ll include several articles that deal with verbal abuse and lying.

  4. momofblendedfour (Edit) Report

    What about a situation where the behavior is a repeat behavior? In my case, my 9 year old has a habit of spreading pretty damaging lies at school regarding his siblings. In each instance, I have withheld any accusation, until I could confirm that yes in fact he has been doing this through several sources including parents and or teachers. He has been advised of the consequences of the behavior, and we have followed through. Yet it continues. When it happened again, just recently – the children who could confirm will not come forth because our 9 year old exacts retribution on people who go against him by spreading rumors about them too. So, knowing that this is typical behavior in his case, do I really need to confirm? I don’t feel that I need to in this sitch…the fact that he has done it many times before, along with the fact that his negative behavior is escalating, is enough “proof” for me. I have explained to him the “Boy who cried wolf” story. How am I supposed to believe him now when in the past, he always said he didn’t do it, even in the face of the facts?

  5. jill (Edit) Report

    well, let me tell you, asking questions is the worst thing I can do. Husband and teens feel its not anyones business what they do and I am left to worry, ask, and then get treated like garbage for asking, and still having no answers……what is your suggestion for that type of response? There is no accusations, only reaching out for some inkling of what is going on in their life, or situation. I am sick of walking on eggshells or take abuse. Rules are still enforced, but its hard without getting any real answers. I believe you need to tell the truth otherwise it is the same as lying. They believe if they dont tell (therefore avoid lying) it is the same as the truth. What is your suggestions?



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