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Personal Injury

Cross-examination also an effective parenting tool

Just like with witnesses at trial, cross-examination can help resolve a dispute between your kids — except, children are a lot more unpredictable than witnesses, they lie more often and have very short-term memories, Toronto plaintiffs’ personal injury lawyer Sharon Bauer writes in her recent Precedent magazine column.

In ‘Life Without Parole,’ Bauer, a partner with Wolfe Lawyers, takes an entertaining look at how lawyers can use their professional skill sets to raise their children. 

In the column, Bauer sets out a scenario familiar to many parents — it’s Saturday evening, and you are on your computer, drafting an important email. Your son and daughter are playing in the family room, when a dispute ensues. When you walk over and assess the situation, there is a large red mark on your daughter’s arm, and a toy dinosaur in your son’s hands. You ask, What happened to your sister?” and your son replies, “The dinosaur hurt her.” 

The best way to get your son to own up to his transgression and apologize, she says? Cross-examine him.

“First, a leading question: ‘Did you hit your sister with the dinosaur? — No, I don’t even like dinosaurs.’ Well, this is a lie. Your son is obsessed with dinosaurs. You’re left with no choice but to use the century-old rule set down in Browne v. Dunn: give him the opportunity to explain this inconsistency.”

“This is your special toy, right? (Pointing to the dinosaur in his hand) —Yes”

“Oh no! Did your sister try to take your special toy from you? —YES!”

“Great. He thinks you’re on his side. He is letting his guard down,” says Bauer.

“Did your sister try to take the dinosaur away from you? —Yes”

"That made you mad, right? —YES!”

“We’ve got the motive. This should be a slam dunk now,” she says.

But in the face of an unco-operative suspect and with no time to argue, it’s time to resort to a plea bargain – “Did you hit her by accident? — Yes, it was just by accident.”

“Now say sorry, kiss her better, and learn to share.” Mission accomplished, writes Bauer.

Treating your child like a client is also the fastest way to stamp out a temper tantrum, Bauer writes in her column.

“Both as a parent and as a lawyer, you are supposed to be a miracle-worker. Fix everything or brace yourself for a tantrum,” she explains.

Indeed, interesting parallels can be drawn between solving a four-year-old’s broken taco dilemma and dealing with the unruly client from earlier that day.

“Earlier, you tried to explain to your client, ‘I’m sorry, but the law is not on your side.’ It didn’t work. Your client seemed on the verge of throwing a fit. You know the look. And so, when you tell your son, ‘I can’t put the taco back together,’ you aren’t all that surprised to hear him scream back, ‘YES YOU CAN!’”

With the client, you started by asking for more facts, rearranging them to try to make them fit the law to the client’s advantage. After doing some research, however, you still came up empty-handed. “When you delivered the news, your client’s face went red, as smoke shot out of his ears. He shouted at you,” writes Bauer.

When you thought it might be time to get the senior partner involved, she said to the client, “You’ve got a great lawyer in your file. She will take good care of you. Got a problem? She will fix it.” Eventually, the client accepted reality, says Bauer.

With your child, writes Bauer, “just like when you elicited more facts from your client to make them ‘fit’ the law, you get more toppings like salsa and cheese to ‘fit’ the taco. You hope this will distract your son from the broken taco shell but to no avail.”

And similar to when you brought in the senior partner, you call over Daddy, but he says, “Your mom will fix it” and walks away.

“As your son falls to the floor, arms flailing, you remember the solution that worked with your client: make him accept reality. And so you issue an ultimatum: ‘You either eat this broken taco or you’re having Monday’s Mystery Meat again!’ In an instant, the crying stops. He eats the taco, broken shell and all.”

To Read More Sharon Bauer Posts Click Here
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