How to cross-examine your child // Life Without Parole

Precedent's latest columnist has a brilliant approach to parenthood: use your lawyer skill set to rear your children

By Sharon Bauer

On Friday November 20th, 2015


It’s Saturday evening. You are on your computer, drafting an important email to your client. Your son and daughter are playing in the family room. You hear your son yell, “Don’t touch that! It’s MINE.” Your daughter suddenly screams and then cries. You cringe. Here we go again.

When you walk over and assess the situation, the evidence is clear: a large red mark on your daughter’s arm, a toy dinosaur in your son’s hands. You ask, What happened to your sister?” Your son replies, “The dinosaur hurt her.” If only it was that simple.

You need to get back to that client email, but you also need your son to own up to his transgression and apologize. What better way to get to achieve that goal quickly than to 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. Unfortunately, children are a lot more unpredictable than witnesses at trial. They lie more often and they have very short term memories. You respond:

  • Do you remember watching television this morning? —Yes
  • Did you watch Dinosaur Train? —Yes
  • Were you wearing your dinosaur pyjamas? —Yes
  • Do you want a T-Rex birthday cake? —Yes
  • Did you go to the toy store this afternoon? —Yes
  • Did you get to choose any toy in the whole store? —Yes
  • Did you choose a dinosaur? —Yes
  • On our way home did you say, ‘Thanks mom. I love dinosaurs.’? —Yes
  • So, you like dinosaurs? —Well, maybe.

Success. Let’s move on.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • So, did you hit your sister? He crosses his arms, turns his head away, and lets out a big sigh. —UGH.

The suspect is not cooperating. Luckily, dad steps in as judge. “Hey, answer mommy’s question!” Your son is angry. You betrayed him. He answers, “No, no, no. I did not hit her.”

You do not have time to argue. So you resort to a plea bargain. It’s time to get back to that client email.

  • Did you hit her by accident? —Yes, it was just by accident.

You could end it there. He already pled guilty. But you can’t help it. You are a lawyer after all.

  • So you did hit her, right? —Yes.
  • Now say sorry, kiss her better, and learn to share.

Mission accomplished. You go back to your computer. Your son runs over and says, “Mom, look I’m sharing my dinosaur. Can you share your computer with me?”

Sharon BauerSharon Bauer is a personal injury lawyer and partner at Fireman Steinmetz Daya LLP and a mother of two. This is her first column in a series that guides lawyers in using their professional skill set to rear their children. Call it work-life balance.