This week, I was asked about how we can stop children from lying. But how do we, as grown-ups, interact with the truth?
When we think about this, it can remind us how tricky this ‘honesty’ thing is.
For example, I’m aware that this Christmas will probably be the last when my son, who’s just turned eight, will be a true believer in Santa.
Only time will tell whether he’ll feel grateful for the magic the myth gave him, or betrayed by the truth and, as I often do at Christmas, I inwardly question where it stops being ok to lie to our kids…
Because we all do… When we know that a truth might be painful for them, we soften the blow with a kinder versions of events.
We simplify or omit facts to avoid confusion, and sometimes (quite rightly) we serve ourselves first with stories like ‘the battery’s dead’ or ‘sold out’ etc.
But despite our own dishonesty, many of us are triggered by our kids’; especially when it causes harm, makes no sense, or they continue to lie even when faced with the obvious facts.
TRUTH; Most of us had childhoods that attached lying to shame, so it’s no wonder dishonesty rattles us… That shame rears its ugly head again when we’re faced with raising ‘a liar’…
So how do we stop children lying, or respond when they do?
Unfortunately, there’s no single answer to this, although a healthy dose of this perspective 👆 can certainly keep us more grounded.
When it’s simply the inability to resist another biscuit, or having more interesting stuff to do than clean their room, we get it…
But what do we do when we’ve offered consequences for lying and they do it anyway? What about lies that are apparently pointless, or seem designed to cause problems?
Extreme lying, the pathological kind, can be a sign of a deeper problem that needs clinical intervention, but the vast majority of the time, lying, like all behaviours, is just a form of communication.
It may not be our child’s obvious intention, but when we focus on ‘What is this behaviour telling me?’, rather than just the injustice of being lied to, we get a better sense of what’s driving the lie.
Always hold in mind that lying is just a symptom of something else beneath the surface, and ask this question; ‘What’s the motivation for lying?’
Because “I don’t want to get into trouble” MEANS “I feel afraid.”
“I want somebody’s approval” really MEANS “I want to feel accepted”
“I didn’t want anyone to know” probably MEANS “I’m trying to avoid shame or humiliation.”
“I just didn’t want to do it” might MEAN “I need some power to make my own decisions.”
”I pretended it was real” usually MEANS “I wish it was real, and I’m sad that it’s not.”
I’m not saying lying is ok. I’m not saying don’t address it.
But I am saying there’s usually an unmet need behind it, and that’s what needs addressing first.
Meet the need, and then work on understanding or diminishing the lies.
It’s not always easy… Especially as children get older and more complex, that need may not always be obvious.
That’s when leading with curiosity is a wonder; it helps us to partner with our child to work out what their needs are together, rather than viewing them as an opponent.
Adjust these according to the development of your child, but next time you’re faced with what you know is a lie- while keeping it all very light (i.e. avoid direct eye contact, busy yourself with something else) – try using these;
1) “I’m curious why you find telling me the truth difficult?”…
2) “Maybe I can do something differently to help you to be more open about this?”…
2) “I’m wondering why you’re having a hard time being honest here?”…
3) “I’m guessing you’re uncomfortable with me knowing how it really is?”…
4) “I imagine something’s going on for you that’s making it hard to talk to me?”
Your child is probably in very vulnerable territory when they lie-otherwise they wouldn’t-and, as is the case for any of us, nothing will drive away the willingness to be vulnerable faster than judgement.
Curiosity invites your child into your thoughts… curiosity expresses your intention to understand.
And it’s that quality of connection that can help a dishonest child feel emotionally safe enough to feel, speak and be truthful.
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