Think of the times you’ve told a lie. In your mind, it was probably justified. You had no choice. The alternative would’ve been much worse. It didn’t hurt anyone. No one will find out anyway. The truth just wasn’t good enough. While children may not be able to articulate these excuses, more or less, they lie for the same reasons we did. Kids are small grown-ups, after all.
Any parent can tell you that this has happened to them, too. Learning how to lie is a part of a child’s development–but so is learning how to tell the truth. That said, keep in mind the values that you aim to grow in your children like honesty, trustworthiness, integrity, etc., and not just focus on what you want them to stop doing–which is lying. Do you see the difference in that approach? Here are some tips on how to encourage your child to tell the truth.
Once your child is old enough to understand the difference between fact and fiction, emphasize the importance of honesty in your household. Tell stories that evoke the same message, like The Boy Who Cried Wolf and afterwards, process together with questions like “How would it feel like if you were lied to? Would it affect the trust between two people if there are lies?” Share your own feelings. Tell your child that she can trust you, that everything will be okay, and that you can always figure things out together and you can only do that if you know the truth. Setting these expectations early on is already a solid beginning. Consider it your ounce of prevention.
When your children lie anyway and you know that they are lying at that moment, check your own response. While it feels like a betrayal, remind yourself not to take it personally. Keep calm. Don’t lash out. Walk away. Remember that if you get angry, that will only justify them lying to you again in the future because they don’t want to upset you. Also, this will stop you from saying things in anger that you might regret. Go back to them after an hour or two. Without accusing, tell them how you felt. Say something like “When you lie to mommy, it hurts. It makes me sad and disappointed.” See the words “when you lie” and not “earlier you lied.” Assure them that you will not be angry when they tell you the truth. When they do own up and tell you, acknowledge that it must have been difficult for them, and praise the honesty.
The definition of punishment is to cause suffering, it includes inflicting pain (i.e. spanking) and isolation (i.e. timeouts). It does not serve the message you want to teach, and is usually coming from a place of anger. Consequences on the other hand, are the direct result of your kid’s actions. An unrelated consequence risks confusing your child. Consequences have to be related, respectful, and reasonable. This is the part where you work together like you promised you would, if they tell the truth.
When you catch your child lying, don’t call her a liar. She might believe you and act like one. For better or worse, a mother is a voice in our head that we can’t silence well into adulthood. Her opinion matters to us. Yours matters to your child like you can’t imagine.
As always, your child is watching. If you call in sick to work (when you’re not) for instance, and your child overhears, this sends the message that lying is convenient. It’s okay. Mom does it. Remember, it starts with you. Your words can’t be heard over how loud your actions speak.