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Children and Lying: Stop Lying Before It Starts

Children and Lying: Stop Lying Before It Starts

George Washington may have said, "I cannot tell a lie. I chopped down the cherry tree," but I'm not sure about that. Humans have an inborn tendency to lie to protect themselves. We’ve all done it. When our brain senses any form of threat, it switches off good thinking and goes into defensive mode. Kids are no different.

How Parents Get Kids to Lie

So, how do we get kids to lie? It’s easy. Just ask them questions such as:

  • Did you brush your teeth?
  • Did you talk back to your teacher?
  • Did you use my tools without permission?
  • Did you hit your little brother?

Wise parents abandon the fantasy that their kids never tell lies. They don't tempt their kids to lie by asking questions they already know the answer to.

When Parents Know What Their Child’s Behavior Was

Let’s look at Rex and his Mom.

Rex had been terrorizing the other 5th graders at school. The other kids were beginning to refuse to play anywhere near him during recess.

Rex's teacher was often convinced that he was behind most problems that happened when her back was turned. She explained it to his mother one day with, "I never see him cause a problem, but when there is one, he's the kid who knows all the details and looks more innocent than anyone else."

Finally the playground supervisor saw him punch one of the girls from behind, knocking her to the ground. However, when told about this, his mother refused to believe the story.

Her response was, "I asked Rex if he did it, and he said no. I have to believe my child."

Mom fell into a trap occupied by many parents who don't realize that it is human nature to deny responsibility. The best way to get anyone to lie is to ask, "Did you do that?"

What is the solution?

Once you know something happened, don't ask your child if he/she did it. Do this instead:

State what you know happened and that you are going to have to do something about that.

Let’s look at what Rex’s Mom will say now.

Mom: "Rex. I know that you hit the girl. I'm going to have to do something about it."

Rex: "But I didn't do it."

Ironically, most kids will still try to protect themselves with a lie: "But I didn't do that."

Mom: "We're not talking about that. We're talking about the fact that I'm going to do something about that."

Rex: "But I didn't."

Mom: "So what are we talking about?"

Notice that this wise parent is not giving the time of day to the kid's attempts to lie. If this child continues to argue, the parent might use the Energy Drain technique.

Mom: "This arguing could cause me an energy drain. Are you sure it's worth it to you?  Thanks for understanding. We’ll talk later. (Parent walks away).

This situation is one in which the parent was certain about the kid's behavior.

When Parents Don’t Know What Their Child’s Behavior Was

What if you suspect misbehavior but don't know for sure? Then what do you do?

Janice's intuition tells her that her son Brad has been drinking at some recent parties. However, as they say on those cop shows, she just doesn't have the evidence to prove it.

Lack of evidence shouldn't keep her from talking with him about it.

Mom: "Brad, I've been getting this funny feeling that you are drinking at those parties. I just don't like to worry about things like that, especially since you are driving."

Brad: "Aw, Mom, you don't have to worry about that. You know I don't drink."

Mom: "That could be, Brad, but you've lied to me about some other things, so I am worrying about it."

Brad: "Yeah, but I'm not lying this time."

Mom: "Brad, we are not talking about lying. We are talking about my worrying. And your job is to make sure I don't worry. I love you, and as a mom I have a duty to worry about drinking and driving. It's all about keeping you and others alive."

Brad: "So?"

Mom: "So, Brad, I know that if you are not driving, I won't worry as much. Figure out a good way to keep me from worrying and you'll get the keys to the car back."

Brad: "But why do you think I'm lying?"

Mom: "Brad, we're talking about worrying, not lying. I'll be anxious to hear your plan to set my mind at ease. Thanks for understanding."

Could you use the same approach about brushing teeth, computer use, cell phone use, etc.?

Find more solutions for when your child lies in our audio, Oh Great! What Do I Do Now?


Jim Fay

Oh Great! What Do I Do Now?