Monday, February 2, 2009

chew on this

Overheard this weekend:

A mom who I know only in passing only was talking about her daughter's problem with lying. She tells many lies and she's about 6 or 7 years old. As a punishment, the mother has begun to cut her hair each time she gets caught lying. The girl has long black hair. She loses an inch with each lie. She continues to lie.

I don't know how I feel about this. I believe in spankings, but the strong whop on the butt kind that when you do it once or twice the threat of a spanking is effective enough for all future behavior modification. I believe in grounding, removing privileges, and of course natural consequence. (i.e. "You didn't eat dinner and now you're hungry at 10:00 p.m? I bet you'll eat a LOT at breakfast!") But altering a child's appearance in a way that does not directly relate to the offense? I'm not sure.

I've always been vain about my own hair so this punishment would be construed abusive by ME. And I feel children should be allowed some control over how they dress and look. It's healthy and appropriate. I have sons and not daughters--cutting their hair or letting it grow is totally up to them. But would this rule apply to girls? If my kids lied, I'd take away TV or computer time, make them miss a fun family outing or hopefully devise disciplinary action that related to the lie they told.

Notice, I say discipline--the Latin root of that word means "to train or to teach" which I prefer to punishment when doing the dirty work of parenting. When Mr. B stole a candy bar at the grocery store and handed it to me in the parking lot two years ago, I walked him back to the check out and asked him to return the candy bar to the lady and apologize for taking it without paying. He never did that again--however I wonder how much he understood about his crime when he committed it. Nevertheless, Mr. B does not steal now--so the lesson stuck. Would it have stuck if I'd spanked him? Slapped his hand or yelled? I don't know that he would have learned anything in that moment. On occasion one of my sons will lie--to get out of trouble. I make it a point to stress the discipline for the lying than for the other offense--honesty is that important. And when they are honest about doing something wrong, I make it a point to praise their honesty while still dealing with the wrong.

I also do NOT punish like my parents did--my mother only had a hammer in her toolbox--I endured the silent treatment, spankings, shakings and months of groundings in addition to excessive removal of privileges. I grew up resenting all of it and only learning that I should walk on eggshells because I never knew what might set my parents off at me. I was not necessarily taught any difference between right and wrong, good and bad so much as I was taught never to cross their paths. Unhelpful to be sure. Consequently, Team Testosterone ALWAYS knows why mommy is mad and what will come of it. They also know that Mr. D and I act as one because we keep any debate private from them. They know interrogations, a lecture, an apology, and righting a wrong comes after they mess up. There's a security in knowing what to expect and a justice in knowing the boundaries. Sure, I mess up sometimes in how I react to their behavior--but I own it and appreciate their protests of "that's not fair!" But I'm still the boss, the one in charge. It's my job to redirect them and make sure they step on the straight path.

And at the end of anything, there's always forgiveness. Could I forgive my mother if she cut off my hair that would take a month or more to regrow? I don't know. This punishment leaves me conflicted--weigh in readers. Would you cut your child's hair to punish them? Is this an appropriate course of discipline? I'm curious to know.

Stay tuned tomorrow for a shocking and related post.


  1. OMG....that is child abuse.

    I bet the mother will be surprised in future years when the daughter comes home with purple reap what you sow.


  2. I have to agree the hair cutting seems...misplaced. I'm currently struggling to teach Nick (4) the difference between keeping secrets and lying about something he did. I tend to think lying is the root for much larger problems with parent/child relationships, so its very important to me.

    But I think that Mom would get much better results if she rethought her tactics.

    On a lighter note, I'm having a giveaway today - come check it out!

  3. Blogger insists I already posted twice, so at the risk of repeating myself...

    Discipline for lying is tricky - I think a harsh punishment like that risks turning them into better liars. Most kids try lying around that age, especially to get out of trouble.

  4. I think the punishment is inappropriate and it makes me wonder what else is going on in that household.

    In my house, my girls have final say in what happens with their hair. If they want something unreasonable, then we talk about it; otherwise, the decision is theirs.

  5. I don't agree with the hair cutting thing because I am not quite sure how this teaches the child WHY lying is bad. I am not the best discipliner in the clan of motherhood, but I am all about my child knowing WHY something is wrong.

  6. I wonder what this parent has already tried in order to stop the lying. What on earth could this child be lying about?

    I can't imagine treating my daughter that way.

  7. My view was that the punishment should fit the crime. And our kids knew that it was better to tell the truth, because the punishment was a lot more harsh if we found out they lied.

    That girl might become so defiant that the Mom could shave her head and it wouldn't make her behave.

    Many people thought we were too strict with our kids about their behavior and expectations when they were little, but we honestly reached a point where they rarely needed to be disciplined and we had ZERO problems through their teen years.

  8. Absolutely not. That is the craziest thing I have heard in quite awhile. Obviously doesn't work and is weird to boot. Good topic to bring up as I am reading the Sear's Discipline book right now and trying to find a style of my own. Good post. Can't wait for tomorrow!

  9. Wow, if my mother had used this tactic, I would have been bald within a month! I was a BIG liar when I was in grade school/junior high - I thought I would avoid getting in trouble for whatever I had done/not done but I always got in bigger trouble for the lie. Even so, I kept on lying for years - it must have been pretty impressive because my sisters still mention it occasionally.

    Honestly, I'm torn on this - on the one hand, the child will have a constant reminder of the consequences of lying; on the other, it's only hair and it will grow back...and it sounds like this punishment (IMO this is punishment, not discipline) is not working with this child. I'm thinking about this, I remember how horrible I felt when I was about to confess to a lie, and I know that my parents were always more upset about the lie than the infraction, but I don't remember the discipline they used. Maybe my own guilt worked better than their discipline - I am scrupulously honest now!

  10. It's certainly not something I would have ever thought of. I agree that the discipline should help the child understand why honesty is better.

    and Hen? I never cut my child's hair as punishment for lying and she has purple/hot pink hair. What am I reaping?

  11. I think that punishment is strange at best and borderline abusive at worst.

    That child will need some major conselling I think.

  12. That is not discipline. She is asking for a screwed up mess on her hands in a few years. Look out, is all I can say.

  13. I am a big fan of natural consequences, too. But lying is a tough one.

    What we do is consequence doubling. That is to say, if you hit your brother, there is a consequence. If you hit your brother and then lie about it, the consequence doubles. If, after the lie is discovered, you lie again about it, the consequence doubles again.

    It's the best we can do to replicate the ways lies complicate life when you're a grown-up.

    And the form of the discipline in our household is almost always determined after the offense has been committed, not before the fact. What will happen to the hair-chopping mom when her daughter decides she likes her hair better short?

    IMO, there has to be a teaching component involved and cutting hair is only a natural consequence of something like getting gum in your hair.

    (I'll be sure to tune in tomorrow, for sure!) - Julia

  14. I agree with the commenter that said kids learn to be better liars if the discipline isn't DIRECTLY related to the lying.

    The hair? You know how I feel about hair, so NO WAY would I put a girl through that.

  15. I'm not going to leave anything here that hasn't already been said
    with regard to that mother's behavior... I will only say that while I don't have kids, I hope that on the off-chance I ever change my mind I can call/email you for advice - you rock :)

  16. Cutting a child's hair as punishment... nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnNO! Time to call the County.

  17. Yikes, seems seems so mean and vindictive.

  18. Add me to the chorus of "INAPPROPRIATE!" She's assuming her daughter's vanity will outweigh the lying ... but shouldn't a strong moral code - perhaps taught by parents - eventually outweigh the lying?

    I love your description of how you handle discipline. Your boys are blessed to have such a caring mama.

  19. I wouldn't say it's abuse - thought I would say it's a VERY strange punishment. And I agree with Hen that you reap what you sow and this punishment could come back to bite that parent in the hand that cut the hair.

  20. The haircutting does seem harsh. OTOH, I'm assuming this mother has tried other methods to get her daughter to stop lying and is now desperate for anything.

  21. No way.

    I am a bit old school in things. You lie, you get a bit of soap in your mouth. And as it sits in their mouth, I tell them the taste in their mouth is what a lie feels like to people. I don't give them enough to poison them, just a teensy bit on the tip of their tongue.

    Punishment should fit the crime. Now if the girl keeps putting gum in her own hair, then by all means, chop it off.

    That mom is leaving resentment in her wake, not lessons learned.

  22. It sounds like you and I have very similar approaches to disciplining kids, and I had the same reaction as you. I felt very uncomfortable on the inside when I read about the hair cutting. The punishment should fit the crime - a well placed swat on the behind is sometimes exactly what the child needs - but hair cutting seems more like shaming. It doesn't seem very effective. Lying is a reaction to the fear of some sort of repercussions, clearly, but I don't think hair-cutting is going to stop it, and the child is shamed for all the world to see. Makes me feel so sad for the child.

  23. Will the little girl develop a pavlovian response to haircuts as being punishment?

  24. I think the parent in question should firstly commit her efforts toward an exhaustive investigation to better understand the reason for her child's behavior and save the cosmetology for some other, happier occasion.

  25. Very strange indeed.

    It makes you wonder about what else is going on in the house and why the girl is lying.

  26. I would absolutely not cut my child's hair for lying. I take away privileges and stuff like that. But no, I'm not going to cut their hair.

  27. Childless by choice here, but I once was a child, so I don't feel out of line commenting on this one.

    I think the hair-cutting is a weird punishment. Especially when and if the mother does it herself. grows out, so what does that really prove to the kid? You'll have immediate consequences, but eventually nobody will be able to tell the difference and things will get back to normal.

    That kid will probably have dreadlocks when she gets big enough to run from the scissors. *heh*


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