If you’re a parent, chances are your child will tell you a lie at some point or another, and chances are, it will concern you and upset you. Nobody wants to raise a dishonest child, after all. But it’s important to remember that kids don’t lie in the same way adults do. Adults have a fully formed brain, so when we lie, we know that they are being deceitful. But when kids lie, it is not with the intent to be deceitful and dishonest, but with the intent is to please their parents, avoid punishment, and/or get what they want.
Many parents worry that if they don’t catch their child in the lie, if they don’t tell their children that lying is wrong and that it can hurt relationships, if they don’t let the child know that when you lie too much people won’t believe you when you tell the truth, that the child will continue to lie. But doing those things can often backfire and cause your child to lie more.
So how should you handle lying?
I’ve got 5 tips for you.
- Avoid punishment: Punishment, this includes saying anything that would make the child feel shame or guilt, will only lead to the child telling more lies in an effort to avoid more punishment. Instead of thinking “I better not lie again” children will think “I need to lie better next time so I don’t get in trouble”. Instead, use compassionate discipline that connects parent and child while teaching valuable life lessons. (I teach all about compassionate discipline in my parenting course, Family Elements).
- Focus on catching your child telling the truth, instead of catching them telling a lie: Let your child know you value honesty more than them telling you what they think you want to hear. You can demonstrate how much you value honesty by acknowledging your child any time she does tell the truth.
Example: “That took a lot of courage to tell the truth. Thank you for being honest with me”). Look for and acknowledge the behavior you want to see in your child. The behavior you give attention to is the behavior you reinforce. If you give a lot of attention to honesty, you will reinforce that in your child.
- Don’t give your child the opportunity to lie: Oftentimes, we will ask our kids a question when we already know the answer. This just gives your child an opportunity to tell a lie. Instead, state, in a calm and non-judgemental way, what you see/know to be true.
Example: “I see a broken lamp on the floor. How can we fix this mistake?” And if your child lies and says she didn’t do it, calmly say “I hear you say you didn’t break it. And I see a broken lamp on the floor. How can we fix this mistake?” So you’re focusing on repairing the mistake made instead of punishing for lying.
- Model honesty for your child: Even small lies can make a big impact on our kids because they don’t know the difference between us saying “I don’t want to talk to her on the phone so just tell her I’m in the shower” and them saying “I didn’t break the lamp, Tommy did”.
- Build a strong relationship: Having a healthy, positive, strong relationship with your child is the most important “parenting tool” you could ever have. Things like harsh punishment and busy schedules leaving little room for positive quality time (giving your child 100% focused attention), can cause your child to feel more disconnected from you and afraid to tell the truth. If you find your child in a pattern of lying, focus first on strengthening your relationship, and when you do, your guidance and discipline will be much more effective. In my course, Family Elements, I have an entire section dedicated to building a strong relationship with our children.
As children get older (about 8 years and up), their lies become more sophisticated. Their brains are a bit more developed and they begin to understand that lies are deceitful (instead of just as a way to please their parents, avoid punishment, and/or get what they want).
Building a strong relationship centered around trust, openness and honesty when they’re younger is helpful in avoiding lies and sneaky-ness when they’re teenagers, but it is never too late to create that type or relationship. Focusing on your relationship is always the first step to dealing with any misbehavior. But if your teen does lie, speak to them about lying from a place of concern, not control.
As children get older, they begin to discover their independence and if they feel you trying to control them, they will push back even more. So instead of trying to enforce more control over your child, talk to them, in a calm and non-judgemental tone, about their choices and the consequences of those choices.
Example: “You told me you were at Samantha’s house and went to a party instead. How would I have gotten a hold of you in case of an emergency? What if something would have happened to you and I wouldn’t have even known where to start looking for you?” From there have an open discussion with your child and share your own concerns. Talk about the importance of honesty. And discuss with your child the limits and boundaries you have set and why. Again, all of this needs to come from a place of concern and love and calmness, not from anger. If you are angry about your child lying, take some time to get calm before talking with your child. For more information on setting limits with kids, sign up for my parenting course, Family Elements.
To sum it up, by building a strong relationship, staying calm and non-judgemental, and using compassionate discipline instead of punishment, you will lessen your child’s need to lie.