I’ve felt it. The shock of realizing your kid just lied to you. It sort of fills you with a sense of surprise, which quickly melts into anger. If it’s particularly sneaky, we can begin to over-react.
First of all, take a deep breathe. It’s going to be okay. If you need to, go somewhere else and calm down. It will be more helpful to address the issue when you are calm. When you feel ready, here are a few tips to help you respond appropriately.
Don’t set them up.
It can be tempting to try and catch them in the act so to speak, but resist the urge to set them up by asking questions you already know the answer to. “Did you eat the brownie?” Is just a set up for lying if you know they already took it. Instead, try saying, “Hey, I saw that you took a brownie earlier. Can we agree to not eat any more until after dinner?”
Deal with the real problem.
Often times kids will lie because they are feeling stuck, are afraid of punishment or rejection, or think that the lie will keep the peace. If your child is lying, ask yourself what they might be afraid of or trying to avoid. Are they hungry at different times than food is available? Have they been dealing with feeling left out or deprived of something at school? Is there a way to find a middle ground on an issue where you have said a flat no? Don’t let power struggles turn into a losing battle for both of you if a decent compromise is possible.
Let them know they are loved.
Ask yourself the hard question, “Have I set up a system that punishes honesty?” As parents, we have the greater responsibility to respond and act appropriately. If we haven’t been a safe person by responding out of anger, we might need to make amends with our kids. If you have been in power struggles with your kids and they are starting to lie out of defiance, it might be time to stop any criticism or punishment and just remind your child how much you love them. They might be incredibly unpleasant at this stage, but it could turn the tide in the battle so that everyone can win.
Show them appreciation when they are honest.
Praise their honesty, even if it comes after a lie. Any positive reinforcement of honesty will show them that you are a safe person and that lying is unnecessary. When we show our kids that we are willing to be consistent, yet flexible with them, they will begin to trust us and come to us with requests instead of using deception to get what they want.
While it’s tempting to start worrying that your child is going to turn into a psychopath if they keep lying, try to resist that kind of unhelpful catastroph-izing. Don’t call your child a liar. She is a person who has told a lie, not a liar. Remember to keep negative behavior separate from their identity by not labeling them with the behavior.
While dealing with lying is difficult, it is age appropriate in the later elementary years as their abilities, logic, and emotional complexity are developing in huge leaps. Kids are sorting out their roles in families, school, and social groups. Pressing on the boundaries is just part of the process. The best thing we can do is treat them like we hope to be treated, with kindness and respect.