“… Yeah Mom, I took out the trash.”
“… The dog ate my homework.”
“… It was Billy’s fault, not mine.”
As parents, we’ve heard it all — little fibs, white lies, tall-tales.
It is both mind-boggling (and frustrating beyond belief!) when you have an otherwise good kid who has repeated bouts of being “less than honest.”
Sometimes when they lie, there isn’t even a good or obvious reason for it. Other times, they know they’re going to get caught lying, so why do they bother?
Mostly, it’s difficult, as a parent, to feel like you can’t trust what your child says. And when the lying continues, despite your best efforts, you may even start to doubt your own abilities as a parent.
You wonder: Have I made it difficult for them to tell the truth? Do I let them play with the wrong kids? Am I a BAD parent?
Don’t worry, you’re not to blame for every mistake your kids make. Here are some legit reasons why good, honest kids don’t always tell the truth:
1. They see lying as an easy (and safe) option for solving problems.
Before their brain is fully developed, our kids don’t have a clear grasp of cause and effect the way (most) adults do. In the moment, the benefit of being dishonest outweighs the risk of being discovered, mostly because they don’t think the risk through completely.
Real life example: “If I tell you that my homework is finished, I can continue to watch this awesome movie. Besides, homework is boring.”
2. They’re trying to save face.
No one likes to admit they’re wrong (not even kids). In fact, many adults have a hard time being honest when things don’t go as planned. Why would it be any easier for our children? This is particularly true for kids who have a tendency to make mistakes more than average.
Real life example: “If I blame my friend for leaving the windows open in the car (again), maybe I can avoid Mom being disappointed in me (again).”
3. They remember “the truth” differently.
Everything in life is about perception. Have you ever walked away from a conversation and had a completely different recollection of it than someone else?
Sometimes we genuinely think we did something, because we planned to do it, or we do it so often that it becomes routine. This is especially true for younger kids and/or kids with less developed working memory.
Real life example: “Yes Mom, I fed the dog this morning.” If your child feeds the dog every morning, it’s easy for today to blend in with every other day this week. He or she may not realize the tasks wasn’t completed this specific day.
So, how do you address your child’s blatant lying (even if there are real reasons for it)?
- Be a good role model. Our kids hear and see much more of what we do than we’re aware of. AND truth be told, we all have our own range of honesty. Few of us are completely honest (sometimes for the same reasons as above). I’m sure at some point you’ve uttered one of these phrases: “Sorry, I can’t volunteer at the PTA lunch next week, I have a commitment at work.” … “Sorry I’m late, traffic was terrible.” … “No honey, your butt doesn’t look fat in those jeans!" Our kids hear this, and could interpret that sometimes it’s OK to avoid complete honesty.
- Reward honesty. When your kids tell the truth, thank them, even if it’s about something they screwed up! Sometimes you might even forgive a mistake if your child owns up. There are times that I even give my kids a "free out” to encourage them to tell the truth. "Sweetie, I’m not sure if what you’re saying is completely honest. If you tell the truth now, I’ll let you off with a warning instead of a consequence.“ You may or may not want to make this a habit, depends on your child and the situation.
- Show compassion. Being honest isn’t always easy, and there are some (almost) legitimate reasons that our kids don’t come forth with the truth. A friend of mine says, "All kids lie. It’s normal!" I’m not excusing the behavior. If that’s true, then good parenting requires us to help them learn honesty, rather than punishing them for not doing something that’s pretty hard for adults to even do in the first place. —Elaine Taylor-Klaus & Diane Dempster
Elaine Taylor-Klaus & Diane Dempster are YourTango Experts and the co-founders of ImpactADHD, a parenting resource that provides direct support and training, online and on the phone.
(Photo: Getty Images)
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