Sad but true. We all lie to some extent and at one time or another. Lies of omission? We choose not to tell something that is relevant. Lies of commission? We are typically trying to get out of something. Lies of convenience? We just don’t want to bother with or see the need for telling the truth. Lies of power? We build ourselves up or put others down simply to make ourselves feel better. While, hopefully, lying is not the norm in your family, it does occur. So, what do we do as parents about lying?
We had moved to a new neighborhood and our children had entered a new school. Our son was in the first grade and we attended the first parents’ night of the school year. “So, what’s it like moving here from Texas over this past summer,” his teacher innocently asked to start the meeting. In fact, we had moved from across town. Our son had told this lie to both the teacher and all the class, at 6 years old! We corrected the lie with the teacher and had a sit-down with our son after we got home.
His lie was either one of convenience or one of power, but a lie is a lie. At that point, we had several options. We could have laughed it off. “Whoa! That was a good one, son. You really got your teacher with that one.” That response would have reinforced his actions and gotten his brain going about the genius of his next lie. We could have angrily over-reacted. “I did not raise you to become a liar. Who do you think you are? Go to your room.” That response would have injured his self-esteem, distanced us in relationship and conveyed my power at his expense.
In effectively confronting lying behavior, see the words as evidence of your child having a problem, an emotional fever. You’re go-to response? Active listening. “Wow, son, lying is just not like you. What’s going on? Where did that come from?” After helping him connect his actions with his feelings, and seeing his fever coming down, switch to helping him appreciate the consequences of his actions. The children’s story about crying wolf comes to mind as a metaphor that helps him understand the value of telling the truth. This becomes a teachable moment for your child.
When your child lies to get out of trouble (“Who made this mess?” “Not me, daddy, it was sissy.”) and you have hard proof of the truth, use what I call the Two Troubles principle. Recap the situation with your child and ask how much trouble he wants to buy? He’s in one trouble for his actions. Does he want two troubles for lying about his actions? Natural consequences for lying start with heart-felt apology and may include some tangible action, such as physical labor or extra chores, as a reminder of the cost of lying. What to do about lying? These are some practical thoughts that preserve your child’s self-esteem, your relationship with him, and also provide teachable moments.