A child crosses his fingers behind his back

Parent Question: How do we get our child to stop thinking that lying to us is acceptable? Does he think we buy it?

This question, sent to us by the parents of a teenager, is a frequently heard question in our office. I remember well asking myself the same question, “Does my son really think I buy what he’s trying to get me to believe?”

Unfortunately, he had good reason to believe I was buying it, because in the past I had bought it, and I wanted so badly to continue buying it. Why? Because 1) I didn’t want to think I had a dishonest kid; and 2) harmony over truth was a lot easier than confronting the dishonesty. I was fearful and somewhat lazy in my attitude about addressing the issue of lying.

To get to the bottom of answering this question, it’s important to look at where there may be dishonesty in other areas in the family.

Emotional dishonesty is a very subtle area that we are often unaware of. An example is when we are upset and when asked by our kids, “Mom, what’s the matter?” we reply, “Nothing, I’m just tired.”

They usually know that’s not the truth, but without having discussed the importance of truth as a central principle in the family, kids are powerless to confront us if they feel we’re being dishonest. So look closely at where there may be dishonesty in others in the family, including yourself.

Laura Gauld once answered a very similar question this way,

“If you feel your child is lying, stop everything and address it. Be sure you know where you stand. Are you ready to play hardball? Is lying an issue in the family?

Sometimes, we can set up an atmosphere in the home where the child doesn’t want to tell us the truth, and we do not want to hear it. Make it clear in your family that honesty is truly the most important policy.

Worry less about proving that he’s lying and more about making the effort to get to the bottom of the situation.

If you make a commitment to the truth, there may be times where you will need to apologize for making incorrect assumptions. However, most of the time, your instincts will be right on.”

Good luck!