Recently I received a comment on a post I wrote called, “The Remedy for Lying,” from a mom who’s frustrated with her four year old’s lying ways. Apparently, the mom has not been able to catch her child in the act, but strongly believes lying is involved. I promised to post my advice and decided that “Mother’s Day,” was the perfect day to do just that.
I’ve always liked practical suggestions that are easy to remember. So I came up with a quick way to remember how to deal with the issue of lying with children–it’s as simple as A, B, C, D.
You need to:
- Advertise the rules
- Be a soft place to fall
- Create an honest culture
- Do some detective work
Most of the time children, as well as adults for that matter, lie out of fear. They fear their parent’s anger or disapproval. They fear the pain or loss the consequences bring. And they fear the unknown—not knowing what type of consequence they may receive. So it’s important to: Advertise the rules. In other words, set up and post in a high traffic area a specific “Rules and Consequences Chart.” If you do this, you will need to explain the chart to your child (maybe using pictures for a child who is unable to read yet) and then refer to it occasionally to remind him or her of the rules and consequences. Also, be sure to enforce the rules and consequences or the idea will be lost to ambiguity.
We did this when our boys were younger and it really helped with the “wiggle room” so many offenses seemed to have before the list was posted. So, for example, if our little Graham broke a vase, he knew what the punishment was for destroying property. If he accidentally broke the vase and there was evidence to support this, the consequence was as simple as cleaning up the broken vase. This system works because the child has an assurance of what is to come, and if the parents follow through consistently, the child will become comfortable, even accepting, of the system.
As I said before, fear is probably the biggest reason children lie. So if you’ve had a track record of being extremely angry or hostile when your child misbehaves, then you may see a greater tendency on the part of your child to hide his or her misdeeds with lying or omission of details. This brings into play the second suggestion: Be a soft place to fall. I’m not saying let your child off the hook—just don’t go ballistic every time they do something wrong! If you stay calm and caring, your child will be more willing to reveal wrongdoing. In fact, remind your child that whatever wrongdoing they’ve done can be either made worse by lying about it or better by telling the truth. You could say, “If you tell me the truth about breaking the vase, then you will only be punished for breaking the vase, and not for lying.” You can also do the converse. You could say, “If I find out that you lied about breaking the vase, then your consequence will not just be for breaking the vase, but for lying, as well.”
Sometimes children lie simply because they are picking up on your own dishonest dealings. And this can be easily missed by a parent who may never outright lie, but who hides his or her feelings, avoids confronting but quickly shifts to a bad mood, or rewards a child for “swallowing his or her angry or sad feelings” with the bribe of a cookie or other prize. All of these examples give the child the message that truth is not acceptable or good all the time. This message was shouted loud and clear in my family of origin, yet ironically, never really spoken. It didn’t take a genius to pick up on it and learn to mishandle the truth. The fix for this kind of mixed message is: Create an honest culture. This suggestion may require the most from the parent, since the parent will have to learn a whole new way of relating. Opening up about how we really feel is not a skill easily learned in adulthood, so make sure your child learns it early!
Finally, if your child has a habit of lying and somehow manages to avoid being caught red-handed, then you may need to resort to using my next suggestion: Do some detective work. Although you may not be able to catch a child in the act, you need to be aware of all the evidence that may be available to you. For example, pay attention to the time that the act was committed. If the child was the only child home at a certain time, or the only child awake at the specific time that the crime was committed, then you have more evidence that points to that particular child. If there are items that were involved in the particular crime, look for evidences of those items being left in the child’s room or personal space. You really need to be like a forensic detective, looking for clues to the crime. Once you’ve gathered all of your evidence, present it to the guilty party, reminding him or her that they will have one less consequence if he or she tells the truth. Perhaps it will be enough to persuade your little suspect into confessing. (One word of caution, do not have an attitude that communicates you “want” to prove your child wrong. This will counteract any attempt you make at instilling honesty.)
If all the above fail to convince your child that “it is better to admit— then you must acquit!“ In other words, you need to trust that your child is telling you the truth, even though you may feel in your bones that they are not. It’s important for your child to feel that you believe the best about him or her. Otherwise, he or she may feel discouraged, giving up on the need to please or honor you with the truth in the future (since you won’t believe him or her anyway).
Lying is probably one of the toughest parenting issues out there, and yet it is so crucial to healthy and strong relationships. Hang in there, all you mother’s-day-moms, (oh, and you too – dads) who are struggling with this sticky issue. Speaking of sticky, I think dealing with lying often feels like nailing Jello to the wall! Thankfully, we have a God who knows all and sees all. Ask Him for wisdom, and I promise in time, the truth will be revealed.