September 26, 2009

When Your Child Lies

As new parents let me be the first to tell you that there will come a day when your precious little bundle of joy is going to look you right in the eye with the sweetest, most innocent face he can conjure up and lie his tender little buns off. It's inevitable and can be quite alarming, to say the  least. Question is how do you handle these deviations from the truth...

A bottle of "Ram-a-liar" truth syrup would be ideal. However, this isn't the world of make believe and lying is a learned behavior that can get out of hand if not addressed.

Being the mother of two boys, ages 17 and 8, I've had ample opportunity to fine tune my lie-radar skills. The boys are so much alike it's almost amazing. I generally know when they're lying and they don't have a clue how. Knowing your child's behavior can tune you in to these lying episodes and possibly curtail this behavior before it gets too out of hand.

Just the other day I asked my 8 year old son if he had any homework. His response was that he had completed his assignment at school and left it in his desk to turn in the following morning. I knew this didn't sound like something a 3rd grader would normally do. Heck, they can hardly complete their in-the-classroom assignments without outbursts of talking, giggling and other short attention span behaviors synonymous with this age group.

I asked him if he was being honest and told him how disappointed I would be if I found out he wasn't. He told me he was telling the truth. Oh, how sweet and precious he looked standing there lying like a rug!

Wonder how I know? Well my boys have this nervous "tick". It only occurs when they're lying, scared or having a bit of anxiety about something. They have their hands down at their side and continuously flex and extend their fingers - kind of like playing an imaginary piano.

As he little phalanges danced away, I wondered how to best handle the situation. So, I gave him opportunity #2. I asked him if I would find out anything different if I stopped by his school to ask his teacher about his homework.  Nervous finger tick again. Again, he lied and said no.

I gave him the rest of the night and the next day to come clean. Never happened. Finally, 2 days later, I made an unexpected visit to his school. In these situations, the element of surprise it's worth it's weight in gold. It was right as the children were leaving the cafeteria heading to their classes for the day. He saw me! The smile he had plastered across his face disappeared...then reappeared as he made a beeline my way to give me a heart-felt hug.

I spotted his teacher and asked if she had a moment. By the time we made it to her class, my little man's fingers were exhausted. He had banged his last tune on his imaginary piano. The lie was revealed for just what it was - a lie.

After school that day, I gave him a list of the things he wouldn't be allowed to do as a punishment for lying - explaining to him that his revocation of privileges was a consequence of his decision to lie when telling the truth could have been so much easier. He accepted his sentence and we settled in for a nice quiet evening at home.

I'm not going to say it won't happen again because I'm sure it will. What I do know is he is aware that the good ole checks and balances system is alive and well. This particular system was a great deterrent for my oldest.

Another key ingredient in stamping out this behavior is to lead by example.

  • Stop telling your children to tell people you aren't home when the phone rings and it's not someone you want to talk to. 
  • Don't accept excuses for lying
  • Tell them that you value the truth far more than a lie told to make us happy
  • Enforce the fact that their are consequences for their deceitful behavior
  • Love them unconditionally