To me lying is the worst thing you can do.
It feels like the gateway drug to other dishonest behaviors. Which is why I work hard to explain to my kids how harmful it is. How if they love me they wouldn’t lie to me. They know that no matter what they did, it is better to tell me the horrible awful thing upfront. They know that I will deal with it better. They know that I love them.
So why does my youngest insist on lying to me?
When this first happened, I was besides myself! It was like he was slapping me in the face or stabbing me in the heart. At the time I believed in natural consequences and I would point out that the things he was saying was hurtful. I would punish him with time out. Especially when I knew what he was saying was not true. I wanted him to speak the truth. I wanted him to know that deception had no place in our home.
Things changed as I realized how it impacted our relationship and our home.
He refused to listen to anyone that didn’t agree with his version of things. He became more resistant to anything I asked of him. It only lead to him lying more often and violently defending his lies! He is a sweet and sensitive kid to begin with, so when reacted explosively, I began to worry. Were these the early signs that he might grow up to be psychopath?
What I read to understand more about Lying.
When I am upset or frustrated, I like to read. After one of these episodes I was reading a book from the library called The Honest Truth about Dishonesty by Dan Ariely. This really went against everything I believed at the core of my being but it made me reflect on my own “honest” behavior. It also made me think about my son.
Lying is more than hiding something they feel guilty about. It is a tool all humans use to learn how they should behave. While reading Peter Gray’s Free to Learn I realized kids use it test boundaries. Sometimes it is used to curry favor or position themselves in a way that makes them more appealing… and that this is normal. As humans we want people to think well of us for the simple reason that it makes us feel good. Hmmm. That made me think.
How is Lying Handled in My Home
I don’t know about you, but I remember getting a bar of soap in my mouth for lying. I don’t remember the lie but I do remember the soap burning my tongue. I do remember feeling like I couldn’t trust that adult. I also remembered another time where I forged my father’s signature. I wanted to sell 10 boxes of chocolate to earn the prize for the fundraiser. When I was discovered, I was put on the worst kind of time out-I was grounded through Halloween. It can tell you was absolutely devastating to a kid in the prime of their Trick or Treating years!
I think as a child I learned my lesson but as a parent it turned me into a truth-telling bully. Should we really be punishing our kids for something we all inherently do? A better question to ask is, do we love our kids unconditionally or only when they are well-behaved? The way I see, we don’t need to arm wrestle kids into admitting the truth. We already know the truth. So if punishing your kids is not the answer, than what can you do? We can spend a lot of time using up our energy to punish our kids or we can use that energy to address the real reason the kids are lying. Here is what I found that works in a healthy and happy home.
Acknowledge the Lie
First I try to listen to the lie without getting upset. Emotionally responding to the lie, only empowers the lie. After I give my full attention to what is said I respond with, “that is an interesting perspective.” It is not about giving a diplomatic response. Listening to my kids has led me to see we could all live and see the same thing, but each experience it differently!
Explore the Story
When your child is telling a lie, they are trying to tell you something they generally feel uncomfortable with talking about it directly. Lying is one of the ways a child will explore their emotions. There is a range of emotions and behaviors a child will emulate through play. This is how they understood the world they live and what is acceptable. Lying is an extension of that fantasy world. Become part of the story and role play. Sometimes we try taking the original lie and go over the top with it. When it sounds ridiculous or too silly we end up laughing. It becomes an ice breaker and we can talk about what’s really bothering them.
Give them Your Love
Half the time a lie is told to get your attention. I don’t know if you have one of these kids in your home, but it amuses my oldest kid to lie about something that will get his younger siblings in trouble or about something that will get them upset. I spent a lot of time trying to correct this behavior until I recognized it for what it was. My oldest was doing it to get my attention! Mom spends time with all these other kids, but does she really see me too? Cuddles, hugs, and quality time have helped tame the lying all around. Although they still annoy and vie with each other for attention, they do so without lying.
But that is not all.
In the last year I discovered my 15 year old lied about doing his school work. It hurt because I trusted him to do the work and I believed him. When I realized he had deceived me, I was able to see what was really going on. If I lie, will she notice? Will she care? I spent more time with him, naming each deception and talking to him about the house rules. Namely if there was no school work being done then he would lose access to his gaming privileges. I didn’t get hysterical and I didn’t threaten him. More importantly I didn’t punish him for his past misdeeds. Why? Because ultimately his lie only hurt one person, and that was himself. We moved forward from that by talking about his goals and how he could make better choices for himself.
When Saying ‘I Love You’ is Not Enough
Humans of all ages will lie to look good in front of others or to gain something valuable. The point at which every human will succumb to lying for their personal benefit or gain widely varies. We know adults will do it to protect their source of income and to support their friends. Likewise kids are easily susceptible to peer pressure. When your kid lies to you, try to understand what other influences are at play and address it the best way you can.
However, lying can be addictive. When you have exhausted all of your means to understand and help your child, it maybe time to get professional help.
Healthy Liars are Vulnerable
I hear that kids often tests limits to see if you love them enough to rein them in. That this somehow make them feel more safe in the world. I don’t see it that way and if you ask kids they would probably look at you crazy.
What I do believe is that kids are vulnerable. They need to know that you see them and hear them.
How we choose to handle the lies in our home has helped decreased the overall lying. When they see that we care enough to do something about it, then kids feel more secure. How we respond in these small moments helps them to understand themselves better. Which is why when I am struggling to decode what the lie is about, and I want to throw in the towel, I kindly remember that they chose to share their lie with me. I have learned that the most damaging lies are the one that lives in silence. I know when they break their silence, they are struggling to understand something out for themselves.. While lies cannot be ignored, they are a sign of healthy and intelligent kids. Which is why kids who lie won’t disappear overnight.
Instead of making them feel guilty for lying, we should help them figure out the best way to handle it.