[This article is a part of our Wisdom From the Trenches series]
Have your kids ever looked you straight in the eye and lied?
Lately, my daughter has started doing that. Try as I might to not overreact, it still brings out all kinds of negative emotions in me.
A sense of betrayal… How could she lie to me?
Insecurities… What am I doing wrong that she feels the need to lie?
Worry… Will she ever stop lying? Will we ever have a trusting relationship?
Fear… What if she gets in real trouble someday and lies to me about it and I can’t help her?
I spoke to a few friends about this, and quickly a couple of things became very clear –
- Most kids between ages 4 and 9 lie
- Most parents have similar insecurities, worries and fears when they catch their kids lying
Phew, that’s a bit of a relief. But still, what do I do about my daughter telling me all these white lies? I wasn’t sure… so I just sat on it….
And then one day, while I was casually browsing through my blog reader, I realized — I have an amazing array of parents that I follow. Surely, some of them should have the answer?
And boy, did they ever!
In this first article in the Wisdom From the Trenches series, I asked 3 very wise moms
How do you deal with it when you catch your kids telling lies?
The answers they sent me were not just packed with practical wisdom, but were enveloped in an incredible feeling of supportive understanding like no one else can provide but one parent to another!
Here’s what they had to say and the lessons I learned from them –
First up, is Shannon Caulfield from the blog A Game of Diapers.
Shannon is a full-time working mother of three – a 3 year old son and 1 year old twin girls. While I love the personal stories and the wonderful tips and tricks for parents that Shannon shares on her blog, what keeps me coming back to her blog are the musings and the parenting advice centered on the “do what works for you” philosophy. Here’s what Shannon had to say about lying –
I suppose since my children are small, lying has not been one of the main worries on my list compared to things like diaper rash, or sibling rivalry. From the start, I did make a conscious decision that I wanted to foster a connection with my son that would enable him to feel comfortable enough to tell me the truth so when he was older and it came to the really “big” stuff he would be open and honest with me. Also, I understand that while he may not be telling the truth, he is not lying in the adult sense. His brain is still developing the cognitive ability to lie and this behaviour is normal. Plus, he is very creative and sometimes just gets lost in his own stories (like when he told me I couldn’t find my lipstick because he saw it jump in the air and fly away into the sky).
I think one of the keys to success is building the connection with your child is to parent with empathy and not anger. Most children lie because they are afraid. They are afraid of what you will say or do to them when they tell the truth (i.e. yelling and punishment). At a young age they may even get confused about what they are being punished for. Think about it. Child tells truth, child gets punished. A logical conclusion is that they are being punished for the act of telling the truth, not the original offense.
A few months ago Sawyer decided he likes to pee standing up, which at his age it can make quite a mess. I asked him to please sit on the toilet for that reason, but still does it on occasion. A couple of months ago I went into the washroom and there was a puddle on the floor. Not sure what it was (and not really wanting to examine it closer) I walked out of the bathroom and called to Sawyer “honey, did you get pee pee on the bathroom floor?”
He looked over at me and said “No.”
So, I asked him to come into the bathroom with me. I pointed at the puddle and asked “so what do you think that puddle is?” He looked at the floor and then looked at me.
“It’s pee” he said solemnly.
Rather than get mad at him because he peed standing up or yell at him because he made a mess, I thanked him for telling the truth. I asked him why he didn’t want to tell me and he said because he was worried I would be mad. I told him not to worry, that I wouldn’t be mad at him, just that I needed to know so we could clean it up because someone could slip or get hurt. Then we cleaned it up together.
It wasn’t about punishment. It was about helping him to see that he would not get punished for telling the truth, the reasons why I needed to know if there was pee on the floor, and how we can solve the problem by getting the cleaner and cleaning it up.
Over the past six months we have had a few situations like this. Some of them weren’t so easy and I really had to bite my tongue not to get mad at him for what he had done, but I tried to keep myself focused on the bigger picture. I wanted him to feel comfortable enough to tell me the truth. Plus, once the damage is done it’s done, yelling at him won’t fix the vase he broke or the wall covered in crayon. Really, I had no way to know if I was doing the right thing but it felt right, so I kept doing it.
Then a couple of weeks ago my daughter somehow got a hold of the TV remote and dropped it into the toilet. I was less upset about the remote and more upset about what Daddy was going to say since it happened on my watch. I said something like “uh oh, Daddy is going to be mad” almost talking to myself more than anything.
“It’s okay!” Sawyer chimed in. “Just tell him the truth and he won’t be mad” he explained to me.
As I stood there stunned and holding the dripping remote I realized that what I was doing was making a difference and I smiled in spite of myself. “You are right!” I told him. As part of the follow through I did tell Daddy and I did it in front of Sawyer to model the behaviour I expected from him. Truthfully, I didn’t want to tell Daddy and might not have, but I guess that’s how being a parent can make you a better person too.
I know as Sawyer gets older and the girls get thrown into the mix there will be a lot of lies coming my way. But hopefully by trying to be present, empathize with my kids, and lead by example they won’t be afraid to tell me the truth. When they need me they will be able to come to me for guidance, rather than shut me out and get stuck trying to navigate difficult situations on their own.
When kids are young, they lie. Not because they want to, but because they don’t know any better. By keeping our calm, and empathizing with them in these situations, we can build the kind of relationship that makes it easier for them to tell us the truth in the future.
Oh, another important thing – if we can’t shape up, there’s no point expecting our kids to shape up either. They’re watching us, everything minute of every day, and learn more from how we behave than from what we tell them about how to behave!
Next up is the wise Korinthia Klein from Korinthia’s Quiet Corner.
Korinthia is a violin maker, a military wife and a mom to two girls and a boy ages 12, 10 and 7 respectively. There’s something very soothing and calming about the musings and insights that Korinthia’s publishes on her blog. While it is very much grounded in the positive parenting philosophy that really appeals to me, it doesn’t always conform to expectations… I’d like to think it’s because it comes straight from her heart and not a book or some other academic literature! Here’s what Korinthia had to say about lying –
We actually have a relatively drama free home with our kids. My husband and I are pretty easy going and it kind of rubs off on the kids I think. We try very hard to make our kids feel respected and listened to, and in turn they don’t act out for attention and they support each other rather than compete.
Here are my experiences as a parent on lying: Once when my oldest was about four I caught her in a couple of lies, and told her why that wasn’t appropriate, but it continued to happen. So I told her I was going to lie to her for a week just so she could see what it felt like to be on the other end of it. At first she was intrigued and was kind of excited about the idea (as if it were some new interesting game), but before we got to the end of the first day she begged me to stop. I didn’t lie about anything important–just said we were going to stop for ice cream and then didn’t, or that dinner was ready when it wasn’t, or promised to come read a book to her and left her waiting, etc. It was truly upsetting for her to not be able to trust me, and it did give her pause and drive the point home for a while.
Now that my kids are older we’re able to just explain that it’s about trust and safety. We need enough real information to make good decisions, and if people lie then they can’t be left responsible for anything. They understand lying will make them untrustworthy, and that that will result in less independence. My children seldom directly lie to us about anything. When they do, they are most guilty of lies of omission. If they are embarrassed or worried about something they may not tell us as promptly as they should, but more often than not they come to us in their own time (usually before going to sleep) and will confess to getting in trouble with a teacher or some other transgression. We always thank them for being brave enough to tell the truth.
I think our biggest struggle with teaching our children not to lie is the odd mess of getting them to understand what part of the behavior was disappointing to us. It’s hard to separate the thing they are lying about from the act of lying itself if all they care about is not making us mad. When one of my children used to wet the bed and then not tell us in time to wash the sheets before bedtime rolled around again, it was deeply frustrating. It didn’t matter how many times we said that we wouldn’t get mad about the bed wetting and what we were upset about was the lying, my child simply conflated the two things for a long time. Trying to be upset enough about the lying to make an impression, but not have that spill over into what the lie was about, was incredibly difficult. In that scenario we eventually found it worked best to downplay as much of it as possible so as not to create any environment of fear. We would simply say, “Oh, next time tell us earlier, please” and then go about the business of having that child strip the bed and do the laundry. We find the less we make coming to us with the truth be a big deal, the less reason they have to lie, and as a result it doesn’t happen often.
Not only do young kids not know what a lie is, it is hard for them to understand the concept even when we explain it to them. We need to help them experience it, without being punitive or hurtful, so they can really grasp what lying is and does. As they grow older, they will be able to understand things when we explain.
Also, lying hardly ever occurs in isolation… it’s usually a veil for covering up some other transgression. Being able to separate the two, and responding to each individually can be extremely hard, but is vitally important.
Finally, I spoke with April Perry, the founder Power of Moms.
April is a mom of 4 – two girls and two boys ages 6 to 14, on a mission after my own heart – to promote deliberate motherhood. Through her site, April has built a wonderful gathering place for moms to navigate this incredible but challenging and chaotic journey together by sharing stories, ideas and helping each other. I asked April specifically about her feelings when her kids lie, and here’s what she had to say –
I think every mother will have an experience where her child looks her in the eye and says something that isn’t true. I know my mother experienced this with me during some of my weak moments, and while this doesn’t happen often in my family, it has happened.
My response has worked well for us, and it’s this: I take the child aside, I offer a hug, I express love, and then we have a calm conversation–getting to the heart of WHY the lie happened. Was she afraid I would be disappointed in her? Was he nervous about getting in even more trouble? Was this just a simple mistake that snowballed into something else?
As I make it a point to really understand my children and let them know we’re on the same team, and as we talk candidly about trust and consequences, and the kind of people we want to become, the lying becomes unnecessary to them–and the relationships that develop are sweet.
Does it bother me when my child lies? Yes, it hurts my heart when they are not honest. But, I don’t think it’s my responsibility to govern all of their choices. I think it is my responsibility to teach them the importance of honesty and what the consequences are when a lie is told. So I don’t take it personally if my children make a mistake. We all make mistakes. But as we handle those situations calmly when they’re young, and we develop relationships of trust, I don’t have to worry about it as they grow up.
I think I’m seeing a pattern here – separate the lie from the reason for lying, respond calmly and with empathy to each of these individually and continue to focus on building a relationship where telling a lie becomes unnecessary.
And equally important – don’t let it get to you. Our job isn’t to raise perfect children who never make mistakes… that’s just not possible. Our responsibility is to help them learn from their mistakes each time, every time… no matter how many times it takes.
I can’t thank Shannon, Korinthia and April enough, for sharing their stories and the wonderful hard-earned lessons. It’s not easy being a parent… but then again, clichéd as it sounds, nothing worth having has ever been easy.
On to you now… How do you deal with it when you catch your kids telling lies? Does it bother you? Share in the comments below… between us parents and our myriad experiences, there is a whole treasure trove of wisdom just waiting to be discovered!