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Blackmail From The Mouths of Babes

Well my mother is a teacher, and her close friends (a teaching couple) were moving away, so another teacher was having a simple barbecue at her place. The leaving couple had a three year old daughter “Alice” and the woman hosting the party had a six year old called “Zoe”.

For the most part, I found myself hanging out with the kids.  Alice was a very lovely girl- well mannered and found her own ways to amuse herself without annoying the adults or her parents (who were looking after newborn twins also).  But she would happily chat if she was spoken too.

Zoe however, was one of those children that needed constant attention from adults- would cut off your conversation and insist on making you watch her cartwheels etc.

I let them take turns sitting on my knee while I would bounce them making galloping noises.  I had given Zoe a long turn, and then said it was Alice’s turn now.  After about a minute, Zoe started trying to push her off and said it was her turn again.  I firmly but friendly told her that it was still Alice’s turn.

Later, I gave them both piggybacks.  I had stopped and was talking to one of my Mum’s colleagues when Zoe insisted I give her another piggyback.  I feigned being tired and said I was all piggy-backed out!  She then said, “Give me a piggy back or I’ll say you hit me.”  I was speechless!  I looked around and all these teachers were looking at me as if to say, “Well how are you going to deal with this then?”

I ended up saying, “Are you a liar? Because I don’t like to play with people who lie to me.” And walked off.

Is it more of a breach of etiquette to tell off someone else’s child?  Or to not mention anything (so that I don’t embarrass the parents) but the child thinks its okay and keeps going?

I don’t have children, so I don’t know what I would prefer. I still don’t know if I did the right thing!  0702-11

Something similar happened to my then 13 year old son years ago when we offered educational farm tours to school groups.  A small, kindergarten-aged girl had broken away from her mother and the group, had gone over to the fence where a steer calf was tied up on the other side of the fence.  She was reaching her arms through the fence trying to pet the calf.  My son had gently turned her away and redirected her back to the group only to have the child head straight back to that calf.  Her mother was oblivious.  On the fourth time, the girl ran back to her mother crying and  screaming, “He hit me!”   I had watched  the whole scenario play out and he had done no such thing.  Fortunately her mother ignored that accusation but had she made an issue of it, I was prepared to ask her to leave the premises.

I believe you acted just right, OP (who, btw readers, appears to be female).  I would have no further contact with a child who learns blackmail at an early age.  I’d also seriously ponder whether to bring this to the attention of a parent.  But that is a potentially dangerous path to take because some parents cannot face the reality that Darling Little Foo Foo has a character flaw or misbehaves in any way.  One has to be prepared for an epic case of denial and estrangement but really, what would one be losing anyway?  False accusations of sexual and/or physical abuse are a serious matter and people who perpetuate them should be shunned into social oblivion at the very least.

{ 96 comments… add one }
  • Just Laura July 5, 2011, 8:34 am

    I don’t know what I would have done, but I envy the OP’s level head. Good for you!

  • Carnation July 5, 2011, 8:39 am

    Apparently, no one has read “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” to these children.

  • Cat July 5, 2011, 8:47 am

    Don’t correct her and, in ten or so years, it will be, “He raped me!” or , “He hit me!” At three she has already learned the power of a lie to get her own way.True victims are often disbelieved because some women (and men) lie as a method of control.
    I have a brother and a sister like this. Their lies are so convincing that people are often fooled.
    Your response was excellent. You drew a clear boundary and set a standard of behavior for the child. And you walked away. She saw that her lie availed her nothing but a stern repremand.

  • Cat July 5, 2011, 8:51 am

    Sorry, should have said, at six, not three. I meant to add that I would have marched her over to her parents and I would have told them exactly what she said. Even if she is, “Their precious little pumpkin who can do no wrong”, you would have put it into their minds that she does lie to get her way.

  • Riri July 5, 2011, 8:55 am

    Wow! Great comeback! While accusations of abuse should never, ever be ignored, it is a terrible thing when children (or anyone, really) lie about it to exploit and abuse the sympathy associated with it. Hopefully, that child will think better about blackmailing in the future!

  • Lizajane July 5, 2011, 8:55 am

    Since there were so many witnesses to the blackmail threat, I’d have been tempted to tell her, “Go ahead.” Of course, if she had, there might have been a scene and I admit that my first reaction is often not the prudent one.

  • K July 5, 2011, 8:55 am

    Well if I’m going to get accused of it anyway…LOL

    That one needs a serious spanking from someone.

  • karma July 5, 2011, 8:58 am

    Admin wrote: “I would have no further contact with a child who learns blackmail at an early age……False accusations of sexual and/or physical abuse are a serious matter and people who perpetuate them should be shunned into social oblivion at the very least…”

    Wow, I’m glad to hear you take this position. A while back I posted a similar sentiment on another advice board. The scenario I described regarded a niece who could turn on histrionics at will. I’d seen her do this (in my home), turn off the tears when confronted about the hitting lie, and reply, “I was just playing”. This niece was six at the time.
    I told my spouse that I would not have her under our care any more. We would be happy to see her at family events, but that I was concerned that if she would do that at six, what else might she accuse one of us of doing? A person can’t just rebound from accusations of sexual or physical abuse. It can literally ruin lives and careers.
    A year later, my MIL got a phone call one day around 2pm from that same niece (her grandaughter). She called my MIL at work and told her that “she’d been left alone since yesterday and had no idea where her mother or stepfather was.” My MIL panicked, left her office, and drove straight to the child’s home. Stepfather was in the front yard raking leaves, mom was at the grocery store. It was all a lie. This niece said that she’d just gotten “confused”. Really? So…that’s why you told MIL that you’d been alone since *yesterday*?
    On that other advice board, I was reamed for having taken the position that a six or eight year old blackmailer is a dangerous person. I don’t think so. My gut told me that any child old enough to make up a story that gets someone in trouble is bad news.

  • Louise July 5, 2011, 9:13 am

    OP, I think you handled that well. Zoe really put you on the spot! It sounds like the girl doesn’t get the attention she needs/wants at home — or maybe she needs an unhealthy dose of it. I wonder where she learned that blackmail tactic from?

    I think whether I would have mentioned it to her parents depends on my relationship with them. Someone who is a co-worker (even with whom I am friendly), probably not. But if I regularly socialized with them, I might casually say, “Zoe said that if I didn’t give her a piggy-back ride, she’d tell you I hit her. I thought that was worth telling you as her parents.” They might do nothing, but hey, you tried.

  • badkitty July 5, 2011, 9:20 am

    I would have absolutely told the parents, but I have also dealt with their anger and denial – which is why it’s best to have those witnesses right there to back you up! True, the parents might have just made excuses and appeared to ignore it, but that’s just some face-saving… eventually, stories like this filter back up into their minds, or pile up as more people tell them and it gives those parents (and the child) a CHANCE at fixing the problem before it’s too late. If nobody says anything, how are the parents ever to know that their little spawn is evil? I have one friend whose children are absolutely the worst monsters I’ve ever encountered. I don’t enjoy children (other people’s in general – mine is being raised with manners and I take what others tell me about his behavior when I’m not around very seriously) and she knows it, so she always just claimed that any issue I had with their behavior was just my natural reaction to children… now that she’s seen me with *well-behaved* children she is slowly starting to wonder what is going on with hers. It’s a slow process to teach people to look objectively at their offspring but it’s a skill that they need to develop in order to raise good, honest, productive members of society. Next time, tow the little brat straight to her parents and tattle!

  • Katie July 5, 2011, 9:20 am

    Jeepers, you have to wonder where she learned that kind of manipulative behaviour… the mind boggles! I think you did really well, especially being put on the spot like that in front of other adults. I’d like to think I’d react much the same, but I’ve no idea if I would to a child/parents I didn’t know well.

  • etimodnar July 5, 2011, 9:25 am

    I would have called Zoe on her bluff, see how far she’d take it. Be all “oh ok, you go do that” and walk away.

    I start with the assumption that children are born selfish and Zoe is no exception. Alice is fine now, but she’ll make selfish mistakes too and I don’t think the solution is to avoid contact with every and any child who is selfish. I’d prefer to stay in their lives and be a positive influence. It’s not parenting a child to refuse to give in to their blackmail. Child and adults need to learn etiquette. I still stuff up lots and am thankful for gracious friends who continue to work it out with me.

    She’s six! She’s pushing the limits to see how far she’ll go. All children do it. They need to learn NOT to blackmail and her experience with you was a learning curve. I babysit young kids often and I find the older children have less patience and I think it’s just because they’re more self aware of what they think they’re entitled to. Younger kids are more distractable by other things, so the fact that their older sibling has more time doesn’t phase them as much.

    Over reaction and I think bad form for putting this up on etiquette hell. She’s SIX!

  • livvy July 5, 2011, 9:27 am

    Great response from the OP. Never, ever reward bad manners, or give in to manipulations or lies!

    As far as telling the parents, I’m always torn – from an etiquette side, it feels wrong to point out someone’s shortcomings to their parents, and may make the parents embarrassed. From a best-for-society viewpoint, I absolutely would want to point out that their daughter lied, and they might consider having a word with her about it.

  • Clair Seulement July 5, 2011, 9:30 am

    Quick thinking, OP–you were not out of line. I can remember being (lightly but firmly, and justifiably) chastised by adults other than my parents when I was little, and I’m grateful for it today. I’d say you helped Zoe.

  • Diva July 5, 2011, 9:32 am

    I too found myself in a similar situation four years ago when my then boyfriend (Now husband) and I were living in a smaller apartment close to his sister’s house. I was in the comission of babysitting his then three year old niece. I didn’t like going over to her house seeing as I am a seamstress and I had a lot of work to do for an upcoming event so they would drop her off or I would get on the bus and go get her.

    On the day in question, I was finishing up some e-mails, the little girl was sitting next to me watching a DVD, I noticed it was about time to start lunch when the little girl got up and looked dead at me and said “If you don’t get up and make me a sandwich I’m gonna kick your @$$.” (I apologize for the profanity) It was safe to say that I was flabbergasted. To make the matter worse, the only person who took me seriously when I told was my boyfriend. Both the little girl’s parents just laughed it off.

  • DGS July 5, 2011, 9:36 am

    I absolutely think it was the correct thing to do to admonish the child and give her an explanation why manipulation won’t get her her own way. I would encourage the OP to approach this topic with the parents – if it is done sensitively, in the manner of “I had a very challenging exchange with Zoe which left me concerned, and I thought I would bring it to your attention” rather than “Your precious pumpkin is a pest”, they might respond well to it, rather than defensively.

    That being said, to whoever suggested a spanking, I would strongly advise against spanking other people’s children, and I would also like to point out that there are bucketfuls of research evidence out there that suggest that spanking is harmful and ineffective. It is ineffective in that it teaches a child to be afraid of the adult, to associate said adult with discomfort/humiliation, and it does not send a message (unlike the OP’s eloquent and concise response) about which behavior was problematic and why it was so, and it is damaging in that compelling evidence suggests that children who were spanked tend to perform poorer in school and have impaired social functioning as compared to children who were not. It is also a punishment that does not produce lasting behavior change (Psych 101, folks – Negative reinforcement is more effective than positive punishment). Before I hear 27,000 responses about ‘entitled kids these days’ and ‘I was spanked and turned out just fine’, certainly it is possible to turn out fine whilst being spanked (it’s called a statistical outlier), but it is does not produce long-term desired effects, and it requires a more stringent application of the same punishment next time to be just as effective. Moreover, many of the ‘entitled kids these days’ are spanked and are still entitled – if their parents are inconsistent and vacillate between permissive indulgence and harsh punishment, the kids continue to act out. Authoritative (not authoritarian), consistent parenting with plenty of positive and negative reinforcement is what works. Hopefully, ‘Zoe’s’ parents can get a dose of that to focus on changing her behavior.

  • Twik July 5, 2011, 9:39 am

    I wonder if this is learned, or whether it’s something inborn, how certain people treat truth like plasticine, to be molded into whatever shape they fancy.

    In the Dame’s comments, she mentioned a child who clearly used this as a method of coercion, even though her mother ignored her claims. Perhaps the mother has heard it all before, but is unable to change the way her daughter deals with frustration. A ticking time bomb, if she can’t be taught more honest strategies.

  • Hemi Halliwell July 5, 2011, 9:49 am

    Bravo, OP. Most people would not now how to respond and your response was spot on. You called Zoe on her behavior and let her know that it would not get her what she wanted.

    I do wonder, like @Twik, if this is something the child learned or if she was born knowing how to manipulate and lie?

  • aka Cat July 5, 2011, 9:52 am

    The OP’s response was great.

    But, I would absolutely mention it to the parents, especially since there were witnesses to the blackmail. Why? Because there’s a chance (small, but too big to risk) that as soon as the witnesses were gone, Zoe was going to follow through with her threat.

    The parents might deny it, or get angry, but if you tell them in a very calm and factual manner, there’s less for them to react to. And if the child later tells them that you hit her, they’ll have your calm statement to weigh against the lie.

  • Hal July 5, 2011, 9:53 am

    I think the OP did just right. Her action serves in many situations in which someone does a rude thing. Smile, make a small remark and get away. My own favorite is, “Excuse me, I think I hear my mother calling.” I am 67 years old.

  • Carrie July 5, 2011, 9:56 am

    Letting it go would be like creating another Casey Anthony, down the road. I think the OP did the right thing. I just might have told the parents as well.

  • r0x July 5, 2011, 10:05 am

    I have no comment on how this should be handled other than to say the OP is fortunate there were witnesses, and did the right thing. What I do want to reiterate, because it can’t be said too much, is that it’s crucial to the child’s and society’s benefit to correct this kind of behavior while the kid is young. It only gets harder as they get older, and suddenly the child is an adult and the parent has no more authority. If a person reaches adulthood without learning to be reasonably conscientious and trustworthy, it can only mean a hard life for them. They will lose helpful connections, perhaps never find loving support in a family of their own, and possibly get involved in crime. I wouldn’t want to leave a child I love at risk of any of that.

  • JS July 5, 2011, 10:10 am

    Jesus Christ, you guys–she’s SIX. She needs to be corrected, obviously, and I think the OP did a great job, but…she’s SIX. She’s pushing boundaries and trying to determine what is and is not acceptable, and she’s right on time for that behavior. It’s very important that she be taught — firmly, if necessary — what is and is not appropriate, but you don’t write off a child in perpetuity for something she does when she’s SIX. Those of you who are saying you would have no more to do with this child, ever, because she will clearly go on to be a disrespectful brat who falsely accuses people of rape and probably litters, too–you all need to unclench.

  • The Elf July 5, 2011, 10:11 am

    Well, at 6 years old she’s still developing her sense of right and wrong. At a younger age, right and wrong is a little like “something that will get me punished” and “something that I can get away with”. At an older age, it’s right and wrong. Zoe is in the middle. Lying and this primitive sort of blackmail is part of that exploration. That doesn’t mean it should be tolerated! Far from it – she needs to know that it is unacceptable to help develop her sense of right and wrong. The OP was exactly right to tell the girl off. If OP was close to the parents, I’d recommend telling them too. They need to know.

    Where I disagree is in the assessment that it makes the 6 year old automatically a bad person who is going to continue this sort of thing into teenagehood and adulthood. She might, she might not. A lot will depend on how her parents deal with it. It might just be a phase. Lots of kids go through a lying phase.

  • AS July 5, 2011, 10:22 am

    OP, I think you did the right thing. And I am glad I read this, because I’ll know what to tell a manipulative kid if I see one the next time. BTW, I often wonder how small children learn blackmailing. Is it natural, or do they learn it from adults?

    I had a manipulative “friend” in my school days. She’d tell people several lies about me, though never in front of her parents or my parents. My mother had high opinion about her, and whenever I fought with her or ignored her, mom thought I was being the mean one (BTW, my mother usually was very balanced in her accusations of me, and wouldn’t say something without proof. This girl was just very sweet when parents were around, and I was never the complainer). Finally, I told quits to her during my junior year of high school. I don’t know if my parents knew what used to go on, but by then they trusted me enough not to interfere in what I did, unless it was very bad.

  • gramma dishes July 5, 2011, 10:36 am

    I don’t think there is anything at all “normal” about this child’s reaction. Somewhere, somehow, she has learned that threatening to tell that someone hit her is likely to be believed and that that adult will get into trouble.

    Children (even very young ones) have been known to say to teachers, “If you make me do this, or won’t let me do that, I’ll tell my Mom that you hit me” (or some other offense). I’ve seen absolutely wonderful teachers’ careers totally ruined by children making false claims. There is absolutely nothing amusing about children telling this particular kind of lie. We obviously want children to tell us if an adult really DOES hit them and certainly if someone molests them, but it’s difficult to know sometimes which children are lying and which are telling the truth, so we tend to give the benefit of the doubt and it can totally destroy an innocent person’s life.

  • ES July 5, 2011, 10:41 am

    To those who wonder where the child “learned” to manipulate, blackmail, and lie – as the mother of a 4yo and a 2yo, I can assure you that children invent this all by themselves, they do not need to be taught or shown. Obviously, if they see grownups lying and being manipulative on a regular basis, the behavior is reinforced. However, they are extremely creative and will often attempt bad behaviors just to see if it will work. It is possible that this 6 year old was still in the early stages of trying out extortion as a tactic, and OP’s excellent response may have discouraged her from continuing. Children will do what works in their world, and drop tactics that fail.

  • gramma dishes July 5, 2011, 10:42 am

    Twik ~~ I don’t think it’s inborn. I don’t remember a single solitary incident like this from my own childhood.

    In fact, I think the opposite was true. Children weren’t believed even if they did report that some adult was abusing them.

    So we, as responsible adults, began to encourage children to report any ‘deviant’ behavior (by adults) and they learned that indeed they could get adults into trouble by saying such things — and garner a lot of sympathy and attention as a bonus! It gives them a real sense of power over adults!

  • Tyler July 5, 2011, 10:47 am

    I, personally, have no problem correcting other people’s children. If the parents refuse to be responsible for their children’s actions, then someone needs to step in and do the parenting. If the child isn’t corrected now, it will definitely become a problem in the future. I have a very dear friend who unfortunately has a problem with overexaggeration. As a child, she would overexaggerate certain events (to the point of flat-out lying) in order to get attention. For instance, if her younger brother smacked her hand away when she was trying to grab one of his toys, she’d immediately run to their parents claiming that he punched her. And now, even as a 30-year-old adult, she still has the same problem. Issues like this have to be addressed during childhood.

  • Stace July 5, 2011, 10:50 am


    Please read the studies and examine the difference between a spanking and a beating. Beatings are harmful and ultimately ineffectual. An occasional spanking is an excellent tool. The difference is on par with denying your child dessert versus locking them in their rooms without food all weekend.

    There is plenty of compelling evidence against beatings and/or constantly hitting your kid. There is absolutely no evidence suggesting an occasional spanking is harmful. Yes, I have read the studies, and by that I mean I have read the actual studies, not the media reinterpretations of those studies.

    Children who were spanked and turned out fine are not statistical outliers, they are actually quite normal. Children who were regularly beaten and turned out ‘fine’ are the statistical outliers, depending on your definition of ‘fine’.

  • ellesee July 5, 2011, 11:13 am

    Thank you Stace!

    I think the OP handled the situation appropriately. Although, I don’t think I would cut the child off…I would just keep a mental note and if the behavior was continuous in all visits, then it’s something worth mentioning to the parents and lessen playtime with her.

  • DGS July 5, 2011, 11:21 am

    Stace, I have read actual studies in clinical and developmental psychology literature. It is part of my job to do that (and please, hold the condescending tone – it is completely unnecessary). And if you would be so kind as to provide me with a legitimate reference for “occasional spanking [being] an excellent tool”, I would love to see it.

    I would also wonder how you would attempt to operationalize the definition of “occasional spanking” – once a week? Once a month? Every other day secondary to hitting one’s baby brother, for instance? Your example of withholding dessert vs. locking the child in a room is actually, an excellent example of the power of reinforcement over that of punishment – withholding dessert is effective; locking the child in a room is of course, abusive and punishing but also, ineffective.

    There are numerous ways of disciplining a child that do not include laying one’s hands on a child and that are much more effective.

  • Angie July 5, 2011, 11:25 am

    I agree with those who think you did the child a favor. She needs to learn that you don’t get what you want by lying and manipulating, and obviously that’s what she has done thus far in life. If she remembers this episode, she might even look back on it and thank you one day.

  • Ashley July 5, 2011, 11:34 am

    I am glad that their were other adults around to hear it (as OP mentioned she was talking to some of them at the time). Hopefully they take issue with it as well and make a note to have a proper response ready in the future, or bring it to the parent’s attention. This whole situation is deeply upsetting to me. The fact that a girl of six is using blackmail is horrible, because I can only think that if one day someone really DOES hit her, no one is going to believe her if she continues to cry wolf. I think OP’s response was amazing. I don’t care if the person is six or sixty, if they blackmail you, walk away. Then you hope that they learn something from it.

  • secretrebel July 5, 2011, 12:00 pm

    “…people who perpetuate them should be shunned into social oblivion at the very least.”

    At aged 7? That’s very young to be shunned.

  • --Lia July 5, 2011, 12:44 pm

    You did exactly the right thing. As to the question of whether or not to tell the parents, I look at it like this.

    One possibility is that the parents know and don’t care. That is, they know what their daughter is like and still think she can do no wrong. If that’s the case, you do no good by telling them. All you’re going to do is cause hard feelings and maybe get yourself in trouble.

    The other possibility is that the parents do know and do care. Even the best children with the best upbringings sometimes go through difficult stages where they push limits, let their imaginations get the best of them, and (I honestly think this is it) don’t understand the repercussions of their actions. They hear something, maybe read it in a story, or hear half a story. So they try something and see what happens. That’s why you did the right thing. You stopped her in her tracks and gave her a consequence that she could see for herself: She lies, and no one will play with her.

    The possibility that I don’t imagine could be the case is the one where the parents don’t know and would care if they knew. In that scenario, you’d have to have parents who heard that their daughter had experimented with blackmail, are shocked, and take immediate steps to remedy the situation with some stern talking tos and moral lessons. I have a hard time imagining that happening if the news came from a teacher or school psychiatrist much less from the daughter of a family friend they’d met only that afternoon.

    Here are my thoughts on the question you didn’t ask. Taking turns where you’re supposed to wait doing nothing while watching someone else have fun is hard. It’s a valuable lesson to learn, but it’s especially hard at that age. After the first time Zoe was too impatient to wait her turn, I would have switched to an entertainment both children could enjoy. Start telling them a story. If there’s any turn taking, make it one where they take turns answering “what do you think happened next?” You could tailor the story to the 3 year old’s interests, but if they’re both sitting cross legged next to you while you make up something silly, you’ve removed the object of jealousy. If you’re out of stories, you can show them how to play a clapping game with each other. It gives the immature 6 year old a chance to play big sister. That way, she learns to take turns and share in a way that’s not too hard on her.

  • Taylor July 5, 2011, 12:55 pm

    My daughter is nine months old, so too young to lie yet. 😉 But if she pulls a stunt like ‘Zoe’ did when she’s older, I most certainly want to know about it! It is hard to hear negative things about your children, but if I stay ignorant of those things, how am I supposed to fix them?

  • Jillybean July 5, 2011, 1:09 pm

    Lia – that is very good advice. Also, I find that children in that age group often have no concept of time, so if you say you’ll have another turn in 5 minutes, 30 seconds later they think it’s their turn again. Of course, when they have their turn for 5 minutes, when the 5 minutes is up, they’ll say it’s only been one minute. Personally, I think time confusion comes from the parents. When I taught pre-school I can’t tell you the number of parents who would say things like, “Five more minutes,” and then either carry on a twenty minute conversation or less than a minute later would be arguing with their uncooperative child who refused to leave because it was too soon. Then they’d wonder why their kid had no concept of what five minutes was. It was one of my biggest gripes. I have no evidence of course, but seems to me that a lot of poor time managers probably had parents who did that. LOL. My other big gripe was when parents (and teachers) asked a child a yes/no question when one or the other wasn’t actually an option. But that’s a whole other issue. 🙂

  • kingsrings July 5, 2011, 1:27 pm

    Some friends of mine have a daughter like this, who does and says similar things. She is now ten years old, and has been like this since day one, basically. Her parents are nice and have realized in the past that there is a problem with their daughter, but they don’t do enough about it, and are in denial about it as well. She has been kicked out of preschools, not invited to friends/family birthday parties, and once she entered elementary school, was sent to the office many times. She is now being home-schooled because, according to her mother, her teacher was “so mean” to her. Yeah right. I worry about her and about what her life will be when she’s an adult and has to be on her own, and tried her authoritative-defiance stuff then.
    If the parents don’t do anything about the matter after being talked to, the only solution is to do what one can to stay away from problem child.

  • Aphrael July 5, 2011, 1:54 pm

    I think your response to the child was excellent – and it very closely mirrored my parents response to me at the tender age of 5 when I tried the same tactic.

    From what I remember, blackmail (and no, the word didn’t even exist for me) wasn’t a learned tactic, or something I witnessed, or even something I was told about, it was an experiment.

    At best, my brain parsed out “If someone tells my parents I’ve done something bad, I get in trouble. If I say my parents have done something bad, they’ll get in trouble!” Where trouble is the nebulous idea of being forced to eat all your broccoli or (gasp) staying in your room until you pick up EVERYTHING (horrors!).

    So, in a snit over something my parents had done, or told me to do that I wasn’t fond of, I blurted out the worst thing I could think of to accuse them of which was “I’ll tell my teachers you hurt me!” with a smug ‘that will teach them’ thought.

    In response, my parents explained, in exacting and excruciating detail exactly what would happen if I told my teacher that lie. Sure, they probably blew the whole Family Services thing a bit out of proportion, but I was horrified. Lying could get my parents taken away from me! No! That was worse than broccoli and room cleaning combined!

    What you said to her was perfect. Define what she was doing wrong, and the real world consequences of it. I wouldn’t shun her forever, but for the rest of the event, certainly. Beyond that single event, she won’t associate why you’re snubbing with her with previous behaviour at that age, and it becomes cruel. For the one event, you’re reinforcing the lesson she just learned, and hopefully adding an important marker to her moral compass as it’s being formed.

    Good on you.

  • GroceryGirl July 5, 2011, 2:11 pm

    I agree, steer clear of the lying and manipulating kids.

    I have a cousin who was falsely accused of sexually abusing one of her 5-year-old students. She was cleared because she had been in the hospital both on the day in question and several days afterward having her appendix removed. After further investigation, it was revealed that the girl was being abused at home by her father. Apparently, it is quite common for kids to lay the blame on someone else as a coping mechanism. My cousin was lucky as could be, that kind of accusation can ruin a person’s life.

  • Twik July 5, 2011, 2:14 pm

    “Testing boundaries” stops becoming a “phase” when it can send honest, decent adults to jail. It’s one thing for a six-year-old to run to Mom crying that “Auntie OP was MEAN to me! She won’t give me a ride!” It’s another for her to attempt to blackmail an adult to do her bidding. I don’t think this is normal, although that’s not to say that she’s irrevocably dangerous. She *does* require constant discipline, and even for the best of parents it will be a struggle to walk that line between “we support and trust our child,” and “we know our daughter lies about people to get them into trouble”.

    I think there are a lot of people with ruined careers that aren’t in a position to “unclench” right now, because of lies like this. It’s all “just a phase” until you personally are facing felony charges.

  • Phyllis July 5, 2011, 2:36 pm

    @ Tyler,

    I would be careful correcting older children because they might fight back. My brother and I did this in middle school. We were waiting at the bus stop and clearly arguing, an elderly woman driving by stopped her car and started to lecture us. All of our anger at each other quickly shifted to the outsider. We informed her that since she was not a relative or a teacher she had absolutely no right to lecture us so why didn’t she roll up her window and keep driving. Clearly, not the best way to handle the situation, but I would be wary of correcting or chastising older kids.

  • JennJenn68 July 5, 2011, 2:53 pm

    I’m sourly amused that once more I am hearing a great deal about “negative reinforcement” and “positive reinforcement” and these seem to be the watchwords in parenting media. Trouble is, so-called parenting “experts” are never specific about the actions that will produce this “negative reinforcement” apart from completely ignoring the bad behaviour and excessively praising lack of bad behaviour and/or good behaviour. Parents: Parent your children, and teach them that actions have consequences in the real world. Don’t rely on “parenting experts” because you will end up second-guessing yourself. No, you should not be your child’s best friend, or his/her pal. You simply destroy all of your authority and you’re doing your child no favours. (This is what my mother used to refer to as “making a stick for your own back”.)

    In this instance, the OP did precisely the correct thing. Telling the parents would do no good whatsoever. I work in a school, and invariably the kids who lie in such a serious fashion (and it has happened a number of times where I have been a direct witness!) have parents who believe every word that the little dears say–after all, they’ve read all of the tabloid stories masquerading as research, and, you see, children don’t lie about serious things that will get grownups into trouble! (Tongue in cheek there, if it wasn’t obvious.) At the age of six it is impossible to diagnose anything for sure, but just remember that all sociopaths were six once… it doesn’t hurt to protect yourself as much as possible and don’t ever let yourself get into a position where it is your word against that of a child.

  • karma July 5, 2011, 2:58 pm

    1. Spanked children who turn out well are not “outliers”. That’s the craziest statement I have heard in a bit.
    2. Some people are innately twisted–yes, even from childhood.
    3. Some twisted children are that way naturally, others have it modeled for them. (The niece in my post had lies and manipulative behavior modeled for her daily.)
    4. You have to make a judgment call: give chance after chance or distance yourself from a repeat offender, even a child.
    5. At some point, even children know right from wrong, and their actions are chosen and deliberate.
    6. There is a difference between shunning versus being on guard and distant. You can model good behavior and good choices without bringing a serpent into your bosom.

  • Riva July 5, 2011, 3:12 pm

    I think you handled it beautifully, and showed great presence of mind! You sound like a kind and wise person.

    You can stand up for yourself when a kid’s actions are directed at you. It’s not interfering with someone’s parenting to decide what treatment you are willing to put up with from others.

    If, for example, parents and other guest are ok with a kid going around spraying everyone with a squirt bottle, fine, but that doesn’t mean you personally have to sit still and be squirted any more that if it were an adult doing it.

    If there hadn’t been so many witnesses to the kid’s threat to you, I would have gone right to the parents and told them before the kid could get to them later with their own version of the story. It could be very dangerous for an adult to be accused like that.

    Since your mother is a teacher, I would be curious to know her opinion. I think she is probably proud of the way you handled it.

  • Lizajane July 5, 2011, 3:20 pm

    This little girl is very disturbing to me and here’s why:

    Most kids will lie to keep themselves out of trouble. It’s not right and it must be corrected, but it’s part of life and learning.
    Scary kids will lie to get others into trouble. This girl is one of those. Be very careful around them, but don’t cave in to them. Beat them at their own game, if you will.

    I have no official studies to back me up on this. My tons of info was gathered from 6 kids, 8 siblings and more neices, nephews and cousins than I have time to count right now. Trust me.

  • Stace July 5, 2011, 3:34 pm


    I suggest you take a look at your own tone, and understand how deeply and horribly you insulted all of us who do spank our children on occasion and all of us who were spanked as children.

    Here is the thing: There is no secret recipe to raising a good child because all children are different. For some, a time out is the most effective. For others, being denied a favorite activity is the most effective. For others, rewarding good behavior and ignoring bad is the most effective. For others, a lecture is the most effective. For still others, a light swat on the rump is the most effective. The key is to pay attention to your child and learn what works.

    The definition of occasional spanking? As needed and no more often than that. Same as the definition for ‘an occasional time out’, and ‘an occasional confiscation of a favorite item’. Any form of punishment can be taken to extreme and turned into abuse, from spanking to the disappointed look.

    I guarantee you have never read a legitimate study that says an occasional spanking will noticeably damage your child’s development. You made the claim that those of us who do spank our children occasionally are child abusers, thus you need to either back up that claim irrefutably. Or, more to the point, you need to re-examine your hypothesis and apologize.

  • Sharon July 5, 2011, 3:42 pm

    Thank God, there were other adults around when she threatened you!
    I think you handled it perfectly.

  • Library Diva July 5, 2011, 3:49 pm

    I think that was a great response on the part of OP. I don’t understand the point of view that because of the child’s age, this doesn’t belong on Ehell. Similar situations will come up for lots of people throughout the summer as they go to barbeques, family get-togethers, etc. and have to figure out effective ways of dealing with children that are still learning how to live in society. I liked OP’s because it clearly sent the message that the child’s behavior was wrong, without being unnecessarily hurtful.

    I don’t really see what specific harm it would do to tell the child’s parents about what happened. This is a friend of OP’s mom, who she will probably not see again. Just relating the incident in a non-confrontational manner is the right thing to do. The parents may or may not know of their child’s tendency to lie, but telling them what happened really can’t hurt.

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