Workable tips for parents to help squash lying behaviors.
It’s no secret kids know how stretch the truth. As we age, our ability to be complex in our lies increases due to our cognitive growth. If we are not careful, those harmless “keep myself out of trouble” lies our kids tell could have them headed for disaster in their adult years. Some of us really struggle getting our kids to be truthful and stories can be so creative they seem believable leaving us feeling like fools when we find out the real story. As a mom of 3 children, one of whom is now an adult I offer these tips on getting kids to be straight up with you:
- Be the Lesson. One of the most important things you can do is BE the lesson your kids need to know about honesty. Display it in everything you do. It’s not what you say that they learn to own, it’s instead what you do. They are extremely observant and even know your mannerisms. Don’t underestimate their understanding and try to make excuses or creative ways to get around your own dishonesty.
- Play Detective. People lie for a lot of different reasons and that includes children. Usually when kids lie (especially younger ones) it is because they want to avoid the consequences of their actions. Though kids need structure, they don’t like punishment. Kids also lie because they are pleasers and want to keep parents happy. If they think you’ll be disappointed in them they may lie to avoid the feeling of making you sad or you really finding out “all” of the thing they’ve done. Know how they are feeling so you can better prepare responses going forward.
- Rock Their Star. Show your kids that being truthful matters by showing them how much of a rock star they are when they are honest, especially when they could really risk getting in trouble for something. Often times, hearing the truth is all we really want from kids and it can either eliminate punishment for what they’ve done wrong or at least significantly reduce the penalty.
- Avoid Emotional Punishments. It is really easy to impose the worst punishment ever when we are extremely upset with our kids’ behaviors. This is a sure way of making them feel like they need to hide things from you because they know you’ll go way to the other end. Remember, extreme punishment leaves you with no other options should they do something far worse at a later time. Also, you are more likely to ease up the punishment if you did it when you were emotional and then you seem inconsistent. When putting rules in place it is very important to be consistent with kids but also take a moment to relax before you decide on their fate.
- Build Values and Integrity Into their DNA. The sooner you start teaching kids values that make sense the better off they’ll be. Kids need to not only know right from wrong but understand their values are who they are and what they stand for. Honesty is an important value and they should know how dishonesty can harm people both short and long term. Each day we are faced with teachable moments, use them early and often.
- Maintain Perspective. Sometimes we are caught up in our own feelings and daily woes when our kids do things we don’t approve of. Think about the lie you child tells or the actions they take. Is it really that big of a deal? Understanding the concept of why lies are problematic needs to be a priority; but, help them realize some things really aren’t that big of a deal and can be dealt with without conflict if they just talk to you openly.
- There Are No Enemy Lines Here. When you think about war you think about people fighting to show who has the power. When kids lie remember they are not the enemy. Avoid show downs and struggles for power. You are the parent, therefore you are the head of state by default but you don’t have to go commando. Make it easy for kids to be honest with you. When you know they’ve been dishonest, work with them to see what can be done to stop this behavior in the future. There’s no need to shine a spotlight like they are in the interrogation room.
- Innocent Until Proven Guilty. No matter how many times you child has lied to you, remember they’ve probably told the truth more than they’ve lied if you count up all the things they tell you. Don’t rush to judgment with your children. I know we think of the boy who cried wolf and how when he really saw a wolf no one believed him, but this is your child. You can teach them to tell the truth and even if they’ve been known to lie, let them know you are still on their side to help encourage them to drop the lying behavior because you love them ANYWAY. This helps increase trust and when they trust you they usually turn around so you can trust them too.
- Know When an Issue Becomes a Real Problem. There comes a time when we have to realize enough is enough. Basic childhood lying is one thing but deception and manipulation are another. If you have that feeling in your gut that this is a real problem for your child, don’t be afraid to seek out professional help to help you and your family get through it.
For parents watching our kids grow up can elicit a host of emotions from us. Often time we aren’t ready for our child’s next life stage at the same time they reach it. We want to keep them as our babies and in ignoring their independence we can send mixed signals to our kids. They want to make us happy. They want to please us and never feel like they disappoint us. We, as adults have to be mature enough to recognize they change and so do their behaviors and priorities. Don’t make your child feel they don’t have the right to grow up and gain new interests because this could cause them to lie to you and set them on a path to lying every time emotional things get tough. Instead, take a real world look at yourself and allow yourself to grow along with your child. Parenting is never a perfect science and you will mess up along the way. As long as you are conscious of your behaviors and decisions all while being willing to learn, change and forgive you and your children will be ok.
Photo: Eugene Kim/Flickr