How do you deal with children lying?
I’ve asked the question a while back on the creatifulkids facebook page and I learned that many people face the same challenge. So along with the positive parenting tips I’ve shared so far, I decided to also write down the approach I took when my 6 year old lied to me about some money she took.
I’m not going to write here about the small little innocent lies which often originate from the imagination and fantasy of toddler kids. Instead, I’m touching the serious topic of children lying and give – what I believe is – an example of positive parenting approach for managing these situations.
That day I went swimming with the kids. As usual, when going out of the swimming pool, I took the clothes from the locker, and put the coin I used back in my wallet. I didn’t think much of it when I saw Victoria (6 years old) fiddling with my wallet. I was busy dressing her siblings and I just reminded her to leave my wallet be and not to take money out. She said “OK” and that was that.
However while getting out of the building, Victoria was stalling and when she catched up with us she was holding a small new toy in her hand. It was the kind of toy you get from those machines where you insert a coin and get a random object in return.
Right that moment I suspected what happened, but I was not sure. So our next conversation went kind of like this:
Me: “Victoria, where did you get this toy from?”
Victoria: “From the machine over there.”
Me: “But you need to put money there to get a toy. Did you put money?”
From the look on her face, I knew my suspicions were true and I started to get upset. So I said: ”I told you not to take money from my wallet! Did you take a coin from my wallet?”
I could see the expression on her face changing and the joy of her new toy fading away. Yet she still answered me: “No, I didn’t.”
Me: ” Are you sure?”
Me: “I don’t believe what you say. I think you took the coin from my wallet even when I told you not to and you bought yourself a toy with that!”
She was silent. And I also didn’t know what to say or how to act next.
The only thing I knew was that I did not want to get physical because I wanted her to UNDERSTAND that what she did is wrong rather than FEAR my reaction. So I decided to buy myself some time: ”We’ll continue to talk about this later. Now let’s get to the car!” I said in a firm voice.
Once everyone was in the car I started to reflect about what just happened and how I can deal with my children lying.
- As a first, I wanted to give her the opportunity to come out and admit her mistake. Although, away from the heat of the moment, I realize now that I didn’t do a too good job here. Without wanting it, I went very fast into blaming and kind of set her up for failure with words like “I told you…” and “Did you…?”. So indeed, she did not recognize her mistake and dug her whole even deeper. (I’ll write more about this later – now let’s get back to the story)
- As a second I told her that I didn’t believe her. I deliberately avoid using strong language as “You are lying!” or “That is not true!” as I find it important to recognize the possibility that I am wrong.
- As a third, I decided not to react immediately, but take a step back and make a break. I think this is very important for several reasons:
- It avoids too much negative emotions. I could have shouted, screamed or cried and this would have made it clear for her that she did something wrong. But I don’t think it would teach her much about WHY it is wrong what she did. She would likely start crying and as such not be much of a listener anymore, because her and my emotions would get in the way.
- Buying myself some time also allowed me to think my approach through. I believe in positive parenting and I do believe that you can use occasions as this one to help your child develop and strengthen the bond you’re having.
After keeping silent for 5-10 minutes till I figured out my approach, I started talking to her again.
Me: “Victoria, I am very disappointed by what you did and it makes me upset. I believe that you lied to me about taking the coin from my wallet. If you are lying to me, that means that I can not trust you and I don’t like that.”
I paused a bit and looked at her. She was silent but I could see she was listening. At this point it was me doing all the talking and Victoria doing the listening. I kept my voice down and stayed calm so she would not start crying but pay attention instead. So I continued.
Me: “I find it very important in our family that we are honest which each other and we don’t lie. I would like to raise beautiful and good kids that I can trust. But if you lie and steel, and you think it’s ok, you will become a bad person and I don’t want to have bad persons as part of my family.”
I could see on her face that she was getting worried and was concerned with what I was telling her.
And still I continued: “I am disappointed with you because I thought that you knew that it is not good to do these things … But maybe you did not realize just how bad the things you just did are. Maybe you did not realize that by lying and stealing you can become a bad person and a thief. Do you want to become a thief?”
Me: “I will try not be upset with you this time, because you maybe didn’t realize that you were doing something so wrong. But it is very important to me that you understand now that you did something very bad and that you should never do that again. Because if you will lie again to me, then it means that I can not trust you anymore. OK?”
“OK” she said in a soft voice
Me: “OK, I am not upset with you any more because I know now that you understand it was bad what you did and I trust that you will not do it again. But I want you to tell to daddy this evening what you did.”
She started crying and we had some more discussion about why it is important for daddy to know (because we are a family and have no secrets towards each other), and why it was important for her to tell (because she needed to take responsibility for what she did) – but she kept on crying.
Me:“Would it help you if we tell it together to daddy?”
“Yes” she said and stopped crying and I stopped the car and we hugged and felt closer than ever.
That’s pretty much where I left it and I did not act upset anymore with her after this. This actual made her very kind and hugging the rest of the day. However I did make sure she got to talk to daddy that evening. This was hard for her, but I helped her with parts of the story, and made sure she felt I was on her side while she was telling daddy.
I find it important to explain my kid the impact of what their actions are on our relation because I believe this one of the most powerful ways to bring such messages across.
I also try to treat my kids with respect, so I will try as much as possible to explain my point of view. To explain why I believe it is wrong what they did and why they should not do so again in the future. I don’t want them to behave out of fear of my reaction, but rather for them to truly understand the impact of what they are doing.
For the same reasons I had this open conversation with Victoria in front of her brother and sister, because I believe this is a life lesson they can learn from as well. I made sure they understand that this is an important discussion and that they cannot interrupt. Instead they should understand why their sister did something wrong, and they should pay attention so that they know in the future not to do the same mistake. While teaching a lesson in front of an audience, it is important tough to do this in a respectful way and not to bully one kid in front of the others.
I don’t always manage to parent as good as I’d like to, but the times I manage, I’m very proud of myself :-). Now time will tell if this approach I took will pay off.
How do you react when you see children lying?
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