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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