It can be frustrating to have a sweet cherubic child lie right to your face. When my daughter was twelve, she would lie to me on a regular basis. While I was upset about the behavior, I was more disappointed by the lack of trust between us. I found myself being suspicious of everything she said. I didn’t like being the interrogator when I suspected she was being untruthful. When she was telling me the truth it was hard to believe her without corroborating evidence. I also saw the distance this dynamic was causing to our relationship.
After getting advice from many sources and mentors on how to stop lying, I decided to try some pretty radical tactics to turn her around and help her become a trustworthy person. It took a lot of patience and tenacity on my part, but eventually, she did turn around and we became deeply connected in the process. I also wanted her to experience real life consequences of lying as an adult. Here’s what worked for me and my daughter.
Model honesty and keep your promises.
If they observe you being dishonest they won’t understand why you can but they can’t. Be courageous and tell the truth 100% of the time. Don’t lie to your mother about why you can’t come to dinner or lie to your spouse about how much you spent at the store. When you model honesty, especially when it costs you something, your child will value that for themselves. And, a child will perceive broken promises as a lie from you. If you say you’ll do something make sure you follow through.
Talk to your child about why they are lying.
It’s important to ask both yourself and the child why they aren’t telling the truth. Are they afraid of your reaction? Explain that the consequences of what they’re afraid to tell you are far less than the added consequences of lying about it. Are they trying to gain control by keeping the truth to themselves? Are there other creative ways you can help them feel powerful in a less damaging way?
Explain what lying does to the relationship.
In real life, when you lie it causes a schism of mistrust between you and the person with which you are dishonest. It takes time to rebuild that trust. I explained this to my daughter, and then I told her that it was her job to convince me I was a smart parent for trusting her again.
In real life, when you lie it causes a schism of mistrust between you and the person with which you are dishonest.
Give consequences reflective of the mistrust.
I told her that, currently, I couldn’t trust her to be away from me. Except for when she was at school, she went everywhere I went. I took her to meetings where she had to wait for me in the other room. If I went to the store, she had to go too. And this meant that she couldn’t hang out with friends, go to parties, or anywhere I wasn’t. If she absolutely couldn’t go with me or her dad, she went to a friend of mine’s house. The time spent together really connected us emotionally. She saw that it wasn’t about the lying but about the loss of trust between us.
Present opportunities to build trustworthiness.
During this arduous journey of being together at all times, I made sure to acknowledge the times she was honest. I gave her small stretches of time away from me and celebrated that she was honest about it. And as she proved herself trustworthy she was given more and more freedom until I honestly could trust her fully.
Have you had experience with a child who lies? What are some ways you can express to your child how their dishonesty makes you feel?