When we catch children in a lie, we naturally feel betrayed, hurt, angry and frustrated. We may feel scared about what this means for our child’s future.
Sometimes we may feel like we can never trust our child again.
But here’s the truth: lying is normal. It’s wrong and goes against our values, but telling a lie to get out of a challenging situation or to get something doesn’t necessarily mean that your child is headed for deep trouble.
Lying is actually a faulty problem–solving skill.
It’s our job as parents to teach our children how to solve those problems in more constructive ways. We can also teach our children the natural consequences that occur when they choose to lie.
Lying is a challenging issue to address, but there are effective things you can do as a parent to address it. For understanding why kids lie and how to handle it when they do, we suggest the following articles/blog posts. Below that is a full listing of our articles and posts on lying.
Why Kids Tell Lies And What To Do About It
The first thing you have to do is be careful of is giving lies too much power. If you have a kid who’s angry at you or who feels frustrated and powerless, and if he thinks he can get power over you by telling you a lie, he’ll use dishonesty to get that power. He willl withhold information and lie by omission when you’re trying to get the truth. He will give you little pieces of information, and that makes him feel powerful. It’s a trap for parents.
Honesty is important, but if you communicate that too strongly to your children, they will use that to have power over you. You have to keep these things a certain size so that they’re not used against you.
The second thing to remember is that you have to understand the power of the culture that kids go into. It’s a very powerful culture that exerts a lot of pressure to “fit in.” They may feel guilty if they lie to their parents. But, again, they’re thinking, “This isn’t that hurtful, and my parents just don’t understand.” Of course, parents do understand. They’re frightened, and they should be.
So I think that parents have to assume that kids are going to tell them lies, because they’re immature and they don’t understand how hurtful these things are. They’re also drawn towards excitement, and their parents aren’t. It’s not like the good kids aren’t drawn to excitement and risk, and the bad kids are. It’s not that the good kids don’t lie and the bad kids do lie. They’re all drawn to excitement, and they’ll all have a tendency to distort the truth because they’re kids.
I think parents have to deal with lying the way a cop deals with speeding. If you’re going too fast, he gives you a ticket. He’s not interested in a lot of explanations from you. He’s just going to give you a consequence.
Look at it the same way with your child. He didn’t tell the truth, whether the truth was distorted, omitted or withheld. There should simply be consequences for that. The first time you lie, you go to bed an hour early. The second time, you lose your phone. It should be something that the kid feels. You lose your phone for twenty four hours. You lose your phone for two days. You lose computer time or TV time.
The consequences have to make the child uncomfortable or they don’t change anything. The idea is that the next time he’s faced with telling you the truth or lying, he will recall how uncomfortable he was when he did the consequence for lying, and he will tell you the truth instead.
The consequence should be about the lying. If there’s a separate consequence for the incident, that should come down separately. Eg. If you come home later than your curfew and you tell me the truth, you may still lose going out Friday night, but you won’t lose your phone. If you lie to me, you lose both.
Parents should not get into the morality of it. Just be clear. Lying is wrong, it’s hurtful and, in our home, we tell the truth. But don’t make it a moral issue.
Make it a technical issue. You broke the law. You broke the rules. These are your consequences.
When a cop writes me a ticket, he doesn’t follow me home or argue with me. He hands me my ticket and he drives away. Approach the consequences for lying the same way. Don’t argue about it or get into a big discussion. Discuss it in a structured way: “What were you trying to accomplish by doing that?” Not “Why did you lie? You know how much lying hurts me.” Just ask what he was trying to accomplish, then point out that lying is not the way to solve his problem. Compliance is the way to solve it.
Talk about it after things have cooled down, not in the heat of the moment. Explain what will happen if he lies again. “If you lie to me about the dance, you’re not going to the next dance and I’m taking your phone for twenty four hours.” Just keep it really simple.