Our little ones can give us a good laugh now and then with the absurdity of their innocent thinking, can’t they? They may have chocolate chip cookies smeared all over their face and truly expect us to believe that they have not eaten a single one! But as our children mature into adolescence they somehow figure out that we aren’t so naïve, and so they sometimes become more calculating and scheming to pull one over on Mom and Dad. That’s when the same deception that made us stifle a laugh in earlier years can turn into a battle. Suddenly, we feel betrayed or angry that our child would actually lie to us when, realistically, he has been cultivating the habit for quite some time.
Our kids need to learn from an early age that we have to be able to trust them. They should know that they will either experience the joy of new, age-appropriate adventures or be denied the opportunity to be out of our sight for any length of time. Surprisingly, our gentle but firm reactions to untruths at an early age can effectively be carried right into the teen years. Our response to our children’s lies, no matter how innocent they may seem, can help our kids develop truth and trust from an early age. Here’s how:
- Our six-year-old who receives an invitation to go out for ice cream with a friend and his parents misbehaves in the ice cream store. When we confront the report, he denies it. His denial brings an automatic consequence: he will not be trusted to go places with a friend’s family until he admits his guilt and has a calm discussion with us about the right way to behave in public when we are not around. There is no anger on our part or any display of frustration. A lie always brings the consequences of broken trust and missed future opportunities. No exceptions.
- Our teen who tells us that she is meeting her girl friend at the mall and instead meets up with a guy needs to calmly be confronted about breaking our trust. She then loses the privilege of going to the mall without us for an indefinite time until trust is regained. There is no yelling, no blaming and no threatening. Instead, we take action to help her understand that she has broken a much-needed confidence and there is a definite, pre-planned consequence. The focus is not on her behavior (something she may staunchly defend as an innocent action), but rather on her need for truth, an area that she cannot deny she violated.
Truth is a quality that our kids must have for successful life relationships and future careers. If we begin elevating that trait by rewarding little “honest moments” in our young children and continue the process as they grow older, we can more effectively handle a lie that arises at a later point. We have a consistent course of action that is enacted without emotion. We demonstrate to our kids that lies do matter, and that the trust that is broken when they choose dishonesty is not worth the loss in the long-run.