Blog by John Daum, Relationship Educator
“You tell your parents that you're spending the night at my house and I’ll tell my parents that I am spending the night at yours and then we both can go to the party.” Definitely a classic! Except the parents ran into each other at the store. You are so busted!
How do you handle lying in your family? It drives me crazy when my kids lie to me. Then one day I really tried to look at things from their perspective and ask myself, “Why would they lie to me?”
Even little kids are smart enough to want to avoid consequences or even just letting their parents down. Put yourself in your kids' shoes- they know that they are going to get in trouble for getting into the cookies, leaving a mess in the kitchen, or breaking whatever. So they choose what they perceive to be the easier path. So, my wife and I tried to make telling the truth the easier path.
When our kids were little, they knew that telling the truth, especially a hard truth, would directly impact their punishment. Sometimes the truth nullified the punishment altogether. “Thank you for telling me the truth about breaking the lamp. Remember, you were told not to horse around in the living room.” And that was it. “Thanks for telling me the truth about eating those cookies. You’re done with sweets for the night.” And we’re moving on. Reward the behavior that you want to get more of. Cultivating honesty in our kids was way more important than finding out who got into the cookies or made the mess in the kitchen or broke whatever. Pick your battles. Honesty is worth parenting toward.
So what about when they still choose to lie? There was a definite flip-side to our approach to honesty. If we caught you lying, that was going to increase your punishment big time. You will be nuked from orbit. Now, it isn’t even about the cookies or the lamp anymore - it’s about the dishonesty.
We wanted to send a message that we know it can be hard to tell the truth and we will reward that difficult choice. We also wanted to send the message that lying was a relationship-destroyer and would have serious consequences. This definitely impacted our kids’ choices. It was not uncommon for our kids to take a minute (or an hour) and come back to us and say, “Okay, look, I lied about ______. This is what really happened...” Thank you! This didn’t mean that there were no consequences for whatever they did, but telling us the truth was always rewarded. Incentivize honesty!
We need to make sure that we are modeling honesty, too. More is caught than taught. Our kids are always watching and listening. Create a culture of honesty when your kids are younger and the stakes are smaller so that as they get older, they are in the habit of telling the truth.
With my older kids, I try not to ask questions that I don’t already know the answer to. They know this. So when I ask, “Hey, where were you last night?” What they hear is, “Ugh. Dad already knows probably.”
We have made telling the truth a family imperative. Lying shreds the fabric of trust in relationships. I tell my kids, “If I can’t trust you, your life is gonna be very dull.”