Are your kid’s pants on fire? Well, yeah, probably. We all lie to our parents throughout childhood. Then, when we get to be adults, we switch over to lying to ourselves. To me, lying and immaturity are almost the same thing, so it’s no wonder that kids lie. Nothing to get shocked and appalled over.
Our job as parents, though, is to try to build that maturity to take the place of the lying – and produce an adult with a strong, straight-talking, no-BS conscience. Here are some stock scripts to use for different kinds of lies:
· That sure would be funny /weird if that happened. This script is a gentle response to the Storytelling Lie, for when you are pretty sure that your kid’s friend does not in fact have a parrot that dresses as a pirate and came to soccer once and scored three goals. This kind of “lie” is a childish way to solve the problem of “I want to be included in this conversation.” Acknowledge the desire to connect and either steer the conversation into reality, or just go with imagination and think of other hilarious things that “could” happen at a soccer game. You want to teach the line between real and imaginary that marks adult conversation without killing the imagination.
· Are you saying you wish that didn’t happen? The I Screwed Up Lie, for example, your kid ate all the cookies or broke the lamp, is super common. Kids lie because they lack problem-solving skills to repair mistakes. They really do have the wish that the situation would just go away and the easiest route that occurs to them is to deny everything or to blame someone else. Use this to lead into a conversation about why they wish the lamp hadn’t broken, and what they can do besides wishing to make things right.
· Are you really saying “get off my back”? The Go Away Lie is often absurdly transparent. It’s a way to get your kids to be straight with you (and themselves) about whether they are meeting their obligations for homework or chores. Use it as an entrée to a problem-solving process of how they’re planning to self-manage the task. In general, lying about homework means that the child can’t solve one or both of the following problems: how to do the homework, or how to get you to stop micromanaging them. Working on those problems together builds honesty, self-honesty, and time-management skills.
· Is it time to come clean here? Sometimes kids get trapped in an Elaborate and Deceptive Lie, for example, a teen lying about where they were last night. They don’t have any idea how to escape. Asking if it’s time to come clean gives them that script to begin to repair the relationship with you. After that, you can have the conversation about why lying seemed like the right solution, whether they are lying only to you or also to themselves about the wisdom of their choices, and what a more mature approach would be. That might look like “Comply with the rules even though I don’t agree with them,” “Ask for five minutes to present my case why the rules should change,” or “Be more honest with myself about whether my choices are wise or healthy.” With teens especially, you’re teaching them to “come clean” with themselves as much as with you. All too soon, they will be the only ones who can call BS on their lies.
Kids lie because they lack problem-solving skills. Instead of focusing on the “lie as lie,” use it to teach the kind of mature problem-solving that doesn’t require lying to yourself or to others. If successful, at least your adult children won’t suffer from “pants on fire.”