I remember a developmental age when both of my kids started testing boundaries with telling lies.
I’ll be honest (since this IS a post about telling the truth), I just can’t stand lying. When I caught one of my kids in a continuing bout of deception some time ago, my heart was broken. The situation wasn’t a big deal from the outsider’s perspective, and the child was very young – but to me – it broke a bond I thought I had with my child.
I had caught my daughter red-handed but didn’t realize it. As I looked at her confused and asking questions about the situation – she just stared at me – stuck. She knew she was caught. She began to cry and told me the truth. I calmly asked her to show me the rest of what I needed to see in order for her to come clean and she did.
I had tears of disappointment in my eyes, but I held my girl and told her I loved her and forgave her. I wasn’t upset about what she did – I was just so sad that she lied.
Another time – when one of my kids came clean about sneaking candy – and I saw the look of shame on her face, I handed her the rest of the candy to eat while we talked about the importance of telling the truth. It wasn’t about the candy. It was about honesty.
I believe that aside from these times when my girls were young and beginning to test the waters of lying, they are extremely honest. They’ll tell me when they have antagonized or hurt each other. They’ll tell me (and their teachers) when they made a mistake at school. They’ll even tell me if they saw or heard something inappropriate. One time my littlest told me we shouldn’t download a song from a movie she liked because there was something in it she knew we wouldn’t be okay with.
Unfortunately, they also tell me about my breath in the morning and the clothing choices I make that they’re not fond of. (Take the good with the bad, I guess.)
I honestly almost never second guess if my kids are telling the truth.
Don’t get me wrong. They’re kids and they’re human. They WILL make mistakes in life because I make them every day – but my girls are honest. And that’s so important to me.
The one thing I believe we all need to do to keep our kids from lying?
DON’T PUNISH THEM WHEN THEY TELL THE TRUTH.
Yes, this is hard. But, if you can start this when they’re young – the offenses and the consequences are minimal.
I was explaining this to my younger daughter when the oldest piped in and said, “It’s true. Mom doesn’t punish when you tell the truth.”
It made my heart really happy to know that my oldest child picked up on this! I believe it has really encouraged her to feel safe being honest with us.
Example: The other day – my youngest daughter had lost her electronics privileges. She came up to me while I was distracted with something else and asked if she could have her iPod. Forgetting the punishment, I said, “Yes.”
She then reminded me, “But, I lost my electronics.”
I then revoked the original punishment because she was honest and reminded me that she wasn’t supposed to have electronics. She could have just let me forget and taken the iPod. I told her if I had remembered later, and realized she had been sneaky, she would’ve lost her electronics for 2 days. But, since she was honest, she could have her iPod back early.
I can, in all other circumstances, be labeled as a pretty strict parent. Probably too strict. But oddly enough – I will let things completely slide if my kids tell me the truth. No yelling, no grounding, and no loss of privilege. They realize this – and they are very honest. I pray it stays that way! This doesn’t mean that they aren’t remorseful about their actions or that we don’t talk about what happened, solutions, and how they could make better choices next time.
If I feel like discipline is still needed, I might say – “This is your punishment. If you would have lied to me, your punishment would have been XYZ.” (i.e. Something much worse). They must make amends and own up to their behavior. And, natural consequences are sometimes the best. Whether you punish them or not – they will have repercussions from their actions.
This is probably very different advice than you may have been given before – but when teaching my kids the value of honesty – this has worked with both of them. They know they can safely tell me anything.
It’s worth it to me to forego a huge punishment if I can help my children and know what’s going on in their lives.
Don’t punish the truth.