Last week, we focused on the many reasons why children might hesitate to say the truth.
What can we do to help kids get out of a pattern of lying?
In this blog post, I will share a few strategies to tackle this challenge.
Do NOT set up the child to lie. In other words, if you already know the answer, don’t ask the child a question to “test” if they’re lying or saying the truth. For example, if you asked a child to complete a worksheet and you see that the sheet is still blank 15 minutes later, don’t say, “Did you finish the sheet already?”
Why shouldn’t you ask a setup question? Two reasons.
First, a child who lies probably wants to please you or avoid punishment. But the setup question is making the child feel trapped. Therefore, the child feels compelled to lie as there is no way out in this situation. Either she’ll disappoint you or she’ll get punished, neither of which she desires.
Second, as with any behavior we do repeatedly, the more a child “practices” lying, the easier it becomes for non-truths to roll off their tongue. We don’t want kids to practice negative habits. So don’t set them up in the first place.
Let children know that mistakes are normal and that they are NOT bad. Instead, it is an opportunity for them to learn from their mistakes. By normalizing mistakes, kids don’t have to lie to protect their image or self-esteem.
What can you do instead? If you see that the worksheet is still not done, state what you see and focus on problem solving.
For example, you might say, “I asked you to finish your worksheet 15 minutes ago and it’s still not done. It seems like a part of you is having trouble doing it. Let’s come up with a plan to get it done.”
A true story…
I remember many years ago waking up one sunny morning and opening the fridge to prepare breakfast for my kids. To my dismay, I discovered that the contents of the fridge were room temperature. The milk was not cold, the cheese and vegetables were warm, and the bread and ice cream in the freezer had defrosted.
Fearing the worst (that the fridge was broken) and hoping for the best (did someone unplug the fridge or turn off the thermostat??), I checked the thermostat first.
Lo and behold, someone had apparently turned the dial to “Off.” A quick mental calculation led me to believe that one of my three young kids at the time must have done it.
Of course, my gut reaction was to find out who did it and yell at that kid!
But I caught myself (after having read a chapter on lying in one of my parenting books,) and told myself, “Stop, don’t ask who did it, as it’ll force one of the kids to lie if they feel trapped.”
Instead, I focused on the solution – which was that I didn’t want a repeat of this incident.
In a matter-of-fact voice, I announced the following when my kids came into the kitchen a few minutes later: “Someone turned off the thermostat in the fridge. I don’t need to know who did it. I just want you to realize that because the fridge was off for several hours, the food probably got spoiled and we can’t use it. In the future, please don’t do it again so that we won’t run out of food.” And then, the conversation was over. I did not say another word.
A few minutes later, one of my kids came over and whispered in my ear, “I’m sorry, Ma, I was experimenting. I won’t do it again.” (Oh, and he happens to be quite mechanically gifted today. So much so for his experimenting.)
We’ll cover more ideas in the next few blog posts. Remember: Focus on solutions and problem-solving, not on the non-truth.Yours,