Why Does My Kid Lie So Much?
Are you training your kid to lie without realizing it? Ouch! So it’s more the parent than the child? Yes and no. Most typical children lie. They are trying to avoid two main things by being deceptive. They are ashamed or embarrassed and want to avoid the agony of one of the most painful emotions known to man, or they are fearful of punishment and want to escape the penalty at all costs.
Most typical children depending on their age will eventually admit that they lied at some point. Then there are the ones who will never “confess” regardless of how many clever punishments and/or threats parents can come up with. How do we as parents encourage our children to develop honesty? Make a note: “DEVELOP” is the operative word here. Honesty is a virtue. Living an honest life is a skill that takes lots of time to develop and happens faster with encouragement, trust, and emotional safety.
What is Emotional Safety? Emotional safety is a relational experience that says “I see you in all your ways; good, bad, ugly, beautiful, sensitive, honorable, deceitful, selfish and selfless, angry, sad, happy, strong, weak, and filled with natural human faults. I see all of you and love you completely.” It is, in essence, an unconditional love that holds no grudges
and forgets past mistakes. WOW! that’s a tall order!
Yes- it is. No parent is perfect and no child is bad. These little guys don’t come with an owner’s manual. How do you create emotional safety? First, you must listen to your own inner experience. When your child lies to you, how do you feel? What emotion is evoked in you? Why do you feel this way? If you’re like most parents, your first response is anger. Under the anger, there might be a fearful echo of your own parent’s reactions to your childhood lies. Then there is that sense of helplessness. You might fear for the child’s future, “Yikes this kid is always lying! They will have a terrible life if I don’t fix this right now and it will be all my fault for being a bad parent!” Once we understand our own reactions we can begin to relax and use our kid’s lying as an opportunity to help our child learn how to tell the truth without fear of shame or expectation of punishment.
What is the next step? Once we have developed our own insight and conquered our own shame and fear then we are able to meet each lying situation with new lenses. Why is this child lying? Are they afraid? How would I meet this child’s fear if it were fear of a snake? Would I get angry at them for being fearful? probably not. We can come alongside them with empathy. For example, “I can see you’re having a hard time telling the truth right now. I know what that’s like. I was also afraid of telling the truth sometimes when I was your age because I was either embarrassed or afraid. I want you to trust that I will not be angry with you for telling the truth. Telling the truth is good for us all and helps our relationships work well. I want you to have a happy life and being honest is a big part of that. Do you trust me? Can you tell me the truth? It’s ok if you can’t do that right now, but I hope you can soon. I love you very much.” This approach provides safety and compassion that encourages emotional growth. A child will feel free to develop honesty in this environment.
Punishment and Reward is a strategy that will help your child develop their best lying skills. They can master the straight-faced “it wasn’t me” response. They will “Ya sure” you to your face and do dangerous things in secret because they learn only that telling the truth will be met with a punishment. When parents provide consequences such as losing electronics, or being grounded because their child did something wrong, the child most likely will see it as unjust and develop resentment. They don’t develop the desire for honesty nor will they want a connection with the angry parent. Let the natural consequences teach the lesson. Allow the child to correct the mistake. For example; The lamp is broken because the child was throwing a ball in the living room after repeatedly being told not to do this. Allow the child to help clean the mess up and explain that he can help buy a new lamp by helping you with some small job. The experience of the breaking lamp will generally be enough to solidify the idea that playing catch is an outdoor activity.
Well then, what about rewards for being honest? The idea sounds good on the surface, but If they get a reward for telling the truth, then they learn that what was given has a higher value than honesty. “I get an extra 30 minutes on my PlayStation! YAY!” They are not thinking much about how they got the reward. Rewards are not conducive to developing honest. If you have more than one child then rewards will create a “tattle tale” dynamic that will drive you crazier than the lying did in the first place. In a nutshell, rewards do not teach or motivate human beings.
Yes, this approach is highly counterintuitive to what most of us have been raised with. We were taught that to lie to your parents was a sign of disrespect and deserved a harsh punishment for our own sake. “Don’t spare the rod lest you spoil the child!” has been taken out of its original context to mean punishment will train your child to be a good person. If this were true then our jails would not contain any repeat offenders. Even as adults we will on occasion lie. One colleague explained how his phone began ringing in an important meeting and he pretended it wasn’t his. He was in his 40″s. So, let’s start learning to cultivate honesty in our children and stop training them to lie.
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