At one point or another, as a parent there is a certainty that your child will lie to you. Guaranteed. If you haven’t caught junior in a whopper yet then either you’re blind to it or he’s not yet old enough to be speaking.
I remember telling fibs and outright tall tales to my parents. My dad had a nose for truth, and I never really got by with much. But the worst part of having told a lie was the inevitable “Now you have lost our trust and have to earn it back” speech. I’ve heard that scenario threatened and watched it play out dozens of times over the years as my husband and I have counseled parents. It never ends well. That forced us to rethink the methods we use, and that’s what I wanted to share with you in this article.
Lying happens. No matter how dedicated a parent you are, how much time you spend with your child, or how honest you as a mom or dad are. Every child will lie. They have to try it. They will try it multiple times. And while I am asking you to accept the fact that they will lie, I am in no means suggesting you should be complacent about it. There is a way to handle the situation that can actually strengthen your bond rather than weaken it.
Not every lie is created equally
First, let me explain that there are lies that a three year old tells (I didn’t eat the cookie) which are very different from those of an eight year old (I didn’t say that to my teacher) and again a world of difference that a teenager will tell (I didn’t drink at the party). What’s important to recognize is that while they are all lies, as the child ages, the potential for disaster increases, so never take lying lightly. If we pay close attention and handle dishonesty early on consistently and with corresponding consequences, then we shouldn’t have too much to be worried about as they age.
It’s not the cookie that the three year old ate that matters; it’s the training of integrity. If as parents we remind ourselves that every time the child lies it is an opportunity to train them in honesty and integrity, we will not grow weary in the hard work and training that this virtue takes.
Sometimes a child lies because, quite frankly, the parent backed him into a corner. The child knows that in order to play Legos in the morning he had to have his teeth brushed. Mom sees him playing and knows he probably didn’t remember to clean those pearly whites. So she asks him, and surprise, he lies. One smell of his breath and a glance at his teeth, which appear to be wearing yellow fuzzy sweaters, and she can tell he hasn’t brushed in days. In these kinds of situations, don’t ask. Look at the kid, if his breath smells or his teeth look like corn chips, just give him the consequence of not having done his job correctly. By asking him, we are just presenting him with too easy of an opportunity to lie.
Why can’t it be a yes?
Another common mistake is that many times moms and dads have a general default answer of “no.” If junior senses that his parents regular response is no, then he’ll stop asking, and beware — this is when truthfulness and integrity can take a real nosedive. Can I go over to Jenny’s? Can I have a lollipop? Can I have a new dress? Can I play outside? These are all pretty simple and surely as they age there will be far more challenging requests, but before a “no” comes flying out of your mouth, ask yourself, “Why can’t I say YES?”
Budget constraints and priorities can make it easy to answer a request of the child’s negatively, but make sure you don’t just answer “no” all the time. Otherwise, children grow up lying to attain simple things or opportunities that parents denied for no major reason. Now, the integrity of the child is warped because of the parent’s tendency to always reply “no.” Beware. It’s an easy trap to fall into, but thankfully it is also an easy fix.
So here we are and junior has lied. Again. Now what do we do? Of course so much depends on the age of the child and the seriousness of the offense. A three year old that used up her sister’s lipstick and lied about it (happened in my house) is far different than a seven year old who lied about why another sibling was adopted (also happened in my house). Worst of all is a lie from a teenager, which, yes…has happened in my house too.
Respond with confidence
In any case, the consequence afterwards may vary depending on age, but the response during discovery and after punishment never varies. I tell my children that with the Holy Spirit on my side, there isn’t much (if anything) that they’ll be able to get away with. I remind them that they have the Spirit of the Lord inside of them that I know was cautioning them against lying to me. I then hold them very close and look dead into their eyes and have them confess exactly what they lied about and why. They then ask for my forgiveness. With all the love I can put inside my arms, I hug them and squeeze them tightly and tell them that I know they will grow up to be a man or woman known for their honesty and integrity. I tell them that people are going to know that if a Reback says something, that it’s the honest-to-God truth…because they know that my child’s testimony can be relied upon! I remind them that as far as the east is from the west, their sins have been removed from them and that God no longer remembers their sin, and I don’t look at them as a liar either.
As soon as I can think of an opportunity, I give them the chance to show off their “honesty.” I continually say things like, “Well, I know if you said so, it must be true because you’re my honest boy!” I make sure under no circumstances do they feel like they have to “earn back” my trust. That is far too heavy of a burden to carry and a slippery slope that leaves them on shaky ground as far as our unconditional love goes. Our love is never in question, and with God on my side, neither is the outcome of their upbringing.
Submit a question for consideration in a future issue at GoodNewsFL.org/AskAColumnist. Or visit Lyette Reback’s inspirational parenting website at Believewithme.com where you can find encouragement, hope and real answers for your parenting challenges.