I remember being called a liar. It felt so unfair. I remember thinking they don’t understand, I’m not lying, I’m protecting myself.
I have to lie to protect myself from my parents, and their reaction.
I always wondered how mom knew I was lying? I didn’t understand why she wasn’t willing to hear my side of the story. I didn’t understand why was she so mad? I didn’t mean to lie, but she was yelling and threatening me; I couldn’t think, so I had to lie.
I was punished big time for lying. I usually had my mouth washed out with soap and was told, “Congratulations, now you will be known as a liar!” My mom, grandmother and great aunts would shame me, and tell me they couldn’t trust me. It was almost too much to bear, but it didn’t stop the lying.
I lied because I was afraid of telling the truth. I felt like it wasn’t safe to tell the truth in my family. I had learned that I was in trouble if I told the truth, and I was in trouble if I lied. In my mind, the only difference was, there were times when I would get away with the lie, and times when I wouldn’t. As I got older I figured, why not give lying a shot? If I got away with it—great, if not, I was no worse off.
Lying is something most kids do, at one time or another. When kids lie, parents feel pressured to punish because they don’t know what else to do.
The truth is, lying isn’t always lying. Sometimes, depending on the age of the child, lying is motivated by development. When you look at what’s behind the lying, it can actually become an opportunity to teach a child how to tell the truth.
Recently I posted an article on FB about lying. http://readingisbetterthanchocolate.com/stop-children-lying/. The article had a great suggestion of how to handle lying, and it’s worth a read.
Most parents see lying as a failure of some kind. They think they’ve failed to impart the importance of a good value system. They see lying as a lack of respect. Some parents automatically assume that a lie means the child is headed down the wrong path. When you have that mindset, you feel compelled to use harsh criticism to try and stop the lying.
Harsh criticism is intense and painful, and can cause a child to fear a parent’s reaction, or worse become numb to it. One thing harsh criticism doesn’t do, is teach a child to stop lying.
As a child, I was afraid to tell the truth. I didn’t think it was safe to tell the truth, so I lied. As I got older I became numb to the punishment I was given. I became willing to risk punishment, if I thought I could get way with a lie.
When I had my kids, I handled lying differently. I understood that kids needed to know they have a safe space to tell the truth.
Did that mean that my kids never lied? No.
It meant that in our house it was safe to tell the truth, even if you began with a lie. In our house it was understood that people make mistakes. It was also understood that you have deal with the consequences of your actions, too.
Here are three age appropriate tips to help you deal with lying in your house.
For All Ages
The article I mentioned, http://readingisbetterthanchocolate.com/stop-children-lying/ posed the question, “How do we make them [children] feel safe enough to own up to accidents, mistakes and failures?”
The authors answer to that question was the part of the article I really liked. The author suggests you use a safe word to evoke a safe zone, so the truth can be told. Any agreed upon safe word will do. The author’s family used “cheese pizza.” When a child uses the safe word, the parent has to breathe instead of react, and become silent so (s)he can listen calmly. This creates a zone of safety for your child, and inspires honesty. Does doing this mean there is no consequence for lying? No, not at all.
Once the lie has been uncovered, you can work together to figure out how to fix any damage done by the lie, including any damage done to your trust. This is where you teach a child about the natural consequences that occur when you lie.
Preschoolers aren’t really telling lies, they’re using magical thinking. Preschooler’s don’t fully understand the concept of a lie. They’re telling tall tales and stories about what they wished had happened. In other words, preschooler’s use magical thinking, not lying.
Instead of punishing a preschooler for a lying, help her understand what she’s doing, and give her a safe place to land to tell the truth.
Try saying, “Sounds like you wished that was what happened. I am not mad, I just need to know what really happened. Can you tell me please?”
Ages 7 and older
Around age seven all parents expect their children to tell the truth. As stated earlier, kids are more afraid of your reaction, than they are of living with the consequences of lying. Even at this age, you need to create a safe zone so kids can fulfil the expectation you have for them to tell the truth.
You know when your child is lying. Their body language tells the tale. They can’t look you in the eye. They’re fidgety. The story rambles on and on.
Instead of accusing a child of lying, simply stand there silently. Your silence sends the message that you know this is a lie.
Stay silent for a moment or two, and then ask your child to have a seat.
Then say, “Wow, that is a story!” or “Sounds like a story to me.”
Saying “Wow, that is a story!” tells your child that you know they’ve made a mistake by lying and you’re going to address the lie, and help them tell the truth.
Create a Safe Zone
Say, “Let’s stand here for a moment and both take a few deep breaths so you can get ready to tell me what really happened. You can begin talking whenever you’re ready. I’m not mad, I am listening.” Then become silent again.
This is where the learning occurs. You want to be empathetic, but clear, that when you lie you have to face the results of your actions. That means taking responsibility for the mistake or problem as well as any damage done to your trust. This is the natural result of lying, and is a valuable lesson for kids.
Tweens and teens are known to stretch the truth, withhold details, or out-and-out lie in order to get what they want. Tweens and teens are also fixated on being more grown up. All of that needs to be addressed when this age group lies. If you feel that you have a chronic liar on your hands, it’s wise to look at the relationship between the two of you. Consider asking a professional to help you both get clear about what’s causing the lack of trust that is motivating lying.
For kids who rarely lie, or the lying is new, you might consider suspending any additional consequences by creating a consequence-free-zone. A consequence-free-zone offers a child a short window of time to tell the truth. Does this mean the child doesn’t have to make amends for lying or damaging your trust? No. It just means you don’t ground them or take away a prized possession in addition to making amends.
“I suspect this is not the whole story. Please remember that we tell the truth in this house, no matter what. I am not mad. I am willing to listen what really happened, and you have a
10-minute consequence-free-zone to tell me the truth. I don’t ever want to feel like I can’t trust what you tell me. I don’t like being lied to, so let’s try this again. I am setting the timer for 10 minutes, I hope to hear from you before the timer goes off.”
Children feel uncomfortable and feel pressured to fill the gap of silence. On the other hand, silence teaches kids how to take a moment in order to dig deep to find the courage to tell the truth.
Since you are the expert on your child, pick and choose from all of these suggestions what you think will work for your child, and use that. These suggestions express to a child that you are loved, that it’s safe to tell the truth, that lying is never okay, and you will always be held responsible to make amends for the damage done by the lying.
I don’t think you can get better than that.
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