Dear Dr. Dave and Dr. Dee,
How do I get my three children to be more truthful? Since they are ages 5, 8, and 10, they are old enough to know better. When I find something broken, messed up, or missing, and ask who did it, no one will take responsibility. I tell them that they will not be punished if they tell the truth and that I just want to know. But, still, each one denies it, no one comes forward, and no one tattles on the other. Since no one confesses, should I punish all three for the misbehavior of one? I keep pointing out to them how many times things get messed up and how no one will be responsible for their actions. It falls on deaf ears. What can I do?
Nothing clams up a child more than being put on the spot and asked "WHO did this?" Also, if they are asked, "Did YOU do this?" The automatic response of course, will be denial.
Instead, ask in a tone that does NOT accuse, "WHY did you do this?" Or, "HOW did you do this?" Be sure and replace the "this" with the actual transgression.
If you still cannot figure out who misbehaved, then yes, punish all three. But, the punishment should fit the crime. For example, if something was broken, then all three need to try and fix it. If it can't be fixed, or something is missing, then all three need to make a monetary contribution toward a replacement.
When their punishment is over, drop the subject and do not bring it up again. Reminding children of past transgressions only makes them feel angry and ashamed, and does not help alter future behavior.