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This one is a weird situation that came to a head yesterday but, now that I look back on it, the behaviour has been there for months.

My seven year old has indoor and outdoor shoes at school. The indoor shoes are labeled with his name, written in my wife's handwriting on very specific labels. Yesterday, he got confused because he thought that the shoes had a pure white "S" on them when in fact the "S" is black. He convinced himself that these were not his shoes.

Usually, I'd expect this to clear itself up quickly - a talk about how maybe he forgot exactly what color the S was supposed to be, showing him the labels on his other things and how they are the same label with the same writing, that sort of thing. But he just won't accept that. He is referring to them as "the shoes you are forcing me to wear" and adamantly refuses to believe that they are actually his shoes. He is coming up with more and more elaborate reasons why they aren't his shoes (perhaps another kid swapped out their shoes and moved the label, perhaps we are lying to him and swapped them ourselves etc).

Now, I know my son and I know that he's not just saying these things to avoid having to admit he was wrong. He actually believes that these are not his shoes, and as such I'm a bit concerned. When I look back I can see that he has done similar things in the past, but up until now I just assumed he was trying to cover up his embarrassment about being wrong. As an example here, he made a mess with water in the bathroom but told us that it must have just been the "steam" coming off of the sink, and he similarly talks about that incident as "the steam on the floor" rather than splashing water. There are lots of other incidents of this happening.

So...has anyone seen this before? What might be the cause of it? Is it something to be concerned about? I tagged the question as "discipline" but that's probably not right, I just couldn't think of a tag that even begins to describe this.

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  • Feel free to revert the extra tags. Maybe also tag:psychology. Oct 20, 2021 at 20:20
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    Have you considered discussing this issue with a child behavior specialist, perhaps a child psychologist? This issue if left to develop may interfere with normal functioning as an adult. At some jobs, such behavior might be seen as a negative. Oct 20, 2021 at 20:24
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    "He actually believes that these are not his shoes..." Please remember, you may believe you know your son well enough to read his mind, but it is not in reality true. You cannot read your son's mind, therefore you can only know (with certainty) what you observe. This denial in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary is not uncommon.
    – anongoodnurse
    Oct 20, 2021 at 22:00
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    These are good points, thanks everyone. We have considered talking to a child psychologist and we probably will do so. And @anongoodnurse you're correct, he MAY be trying to hide his embarrassment, it just really doesn't seem so given how he normally does that Oct 21, 2021 at 13:33

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I've seen something like this in my kids before, and I think it's worth separating a few possibilities as they are treated differently.

One possible scenario is that he legitimately does believe something to be true other than what you believe to be true. My children, particularly my oldest, went through very long phases where they believed they didn't sleep. I'd see them nod off, then twenty minutes later they'd adamantly refuse to believe they'd been asleep - or even the next morning. I believe they did actually believe they didn't sleep - because they didn't have any evidence of that!

I'd handle this in two ways. First, I'd emphasize the reality of the situation: whether they did, or did not, fall asleep, the reality is that it's 20 minutes later. The time passed, the clock shows the current time, show them a few clocks. I wouldn't argue that they fell asleep beyond the initial statement; that's not the important thing, the important thing is the present.

Second, I'd show them evidence. Since this happened for several years, I'd eventually start videotaping them when they'd fall asleep. Just a one minute clip, but it was pretty obvious. When they'd argue afterwards, I'd just show the clip. They often still disagreed - but now I think it was no longer truly disbelieving, now it was arguing to be right, and eventually (after years of this) they stopped disbelieving me (and also stopped arguing to be right, on this point - not on lots of other ones!).


The second scenario is that they don't truly believe, but they're arguing for a different reason. Probably not in this case just to be right - but there's something else going on. Maybe there is something with the shoe that is uncomfortable, or he got made fun of for it, or something else, and he's expressing "I don't want this shoe" without knowing how to express it. (Does he have the option of new shoes if he has a, to him, good reason?)

Dealing with this involves exploring the possibilities and helping him find his vocabulary. Ask him if the shoes make him sad. Ask him other possibilities that you see - reasons he might be unhappy with the shoes. If the shoes are the first thing he does at school, maybe school is making him sad - maybe he's just sad to not be with his parents and is reacting to that. He's five now, and that's old enough to have some more in depth conversations than you might have had in the past!

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    +1. Having a good vocabulary is so very important! (FWIW, often I don't know if I've slept until I look at a clock...)
    – anongoodnurse
    Oct 22, 2021 at 14:33

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