My oldest has been lying a lot lately. Fortunately, he is really bad at it and I have been able to catch him in the middle of them the majority of the time. This has been helpful for many reasons, but one of the most important ones, I believe, is so that we can share our values as a family with him.
Now, most of the time when I catch him in a lie it is blatant and obvious. He typically speaks very quickly, answers questions wrong (me: “what happened?” him: “I didn’t do anything!”), and repeats the same sentence a few times. It's easy for me to pull the truth out of him and I usually tell him not to lie, to not do XYZ again, and possibly deliver a consequence.
This is a very typical response from most parents
and it is also very effective when you’re in the middle of something and can’t spend a great deal of time on the matter. No harm, no foul.
When I have the extra energy and time, I always prefer a more skilled and deliberate response to a lie. I have noticed a huge difference in our engagement and his behavior moving forward than when I do my short and not-so-sweet reactionary response. This is a sure-fire way to
promote family morals and make it a teachable moment.
Top 5 Steps to take once you catch your child in a lie
1. Acknowledge that you know they are not telling the truth. A simple “You aren’t telling the truth right now” statement is sufficient and there is no need to argue or get into a debate. If you as the caregiver have the proper evidence, gut feeling, or whatever, that is enough. My ONLY caveat is not to blame a person just because they *typically* are the transgressor. Just because their history paints them as the culprit, does not mean they did it this time.
2. Pull them aside and provide the opportunity for truth telling. “I know we often don’t want to get into trouble so we tell a lie, but I want to hear what really happened”. They may or may not share with you what really occurred. Practice over time will lead to good results (especially if you follow the next few steps consistently!)
3. Instill your family values. Whether it’s from a religious stand point or that honesty is a way to develop trust, now is your time to share a deeper more vulnerable side of being truthful. I also love the story of The Boy who Cried Wolf. I will either read it or share it from memory and often refer back to it (see my complete list of books here).
4. Have the child identify what they could have done differently in that situation. No matter if what they did was by accident or intentional, there are always alternative ways to respond to a situation. When my son pushed his sister off of the couch because “I didn’t want her to turn the TV on”, his alternative was to tell her it was not TV time or come and get me to assist. By having the child review alternative options, it gets the prefrontal cortex firing for better decision making skills.
5. Identify and share the consequence. Sometimes its as simple as an apology, more elaborate like writing a letter, or removal of a privileged item like videos games. These consequences can either be for the transgression that got them in trouble or also for telling the lie. Use your caregiver instincts to land on what seems most appropriate
When all is said and done, kids lie. Hell, we all do from time to time. The best next step aside from calling them out and giving them a punishment (steps 1 & 5) is all the extra icing that gets layered within the cake (steps 2-4)! It reaaally does make a difference! The more you utilize this approach, the more kids will start opening up and truth telling, as well as be able to stop and use some alternative ways to respond to a situation!