Moms tell me that one of the reasons they yell at their children is when they lie. Lying is a trigger for most of us. No one likes to feel betrayed, deceived, or disrespected.
Before I offer some tips about what to do when your child lies, let’s look at some facts.
Why do you tell lies?
Lying isn’t only reserved for children, as adults, we fib too, and for many of the same reasons, our kids do.
When threatened (real or perceived) the self-protection part of our brain kicks in. In a fraction of a second, the brain decides to either fight, flee, or freeze. We know this as the ‘fight or flight response.’
Besides that, psychologists are noting a fourth “f” response – to ‘fib’. The lie is to avoid disappointment, deflect a bad reaction, buy some time and preserve self-esteem.
Other research by Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Virginia found that:
-most adults lie once or twice a day
-both men and women lie in approximately 20% of their conversations
-in a week adults deceive others in one-on-one encounters about 30 % of the time.
And, DePaulo says that “college students lie to their mothers in one out of two conversations.”
So why do we lie? The answer is security.
Lying is a protection mechanism in hopes to either avoid:
-disappointing the other person,
-hurting the person’s feelings,
-feeling ashamed, embarrassed or humiliated,
-exposure – either actions o feelings, or
-punishment or some negative consequence.
Often with children, it’s the later. When the consequences are severe, like grounding for a month, the brain perceives this as a threat. The child obviously wants to avoid that, so they lie.
It’s often the parent’s initial reaction to the lying that perpetuates dishonesty.
For a child, to tell the truth, they need to know that:
-they’re loved no matter what
-the parent will not lash out in anger
-they won’t be shamed or demeaned
-they won’t be severely punished
-the parent will take time to hear the child and understand the situation
-and, the corrective measures will support the child’s development
So, what do you do when your child lies to you?
The answer to lying is to use the 5 C’s
- Remain calm. The key is not to take the lying personally. Remember that they are doing it to protect themselves, not to make you angry. Yelling re-triggers your child’s brain to defend itself. This results in shutting down, lashing out, running away, or telling more lies to cover things up. None of that will help you get to the truth.
- Get curious in two ways. One, think back to how you have dealt with lying. Did you punish your child in a severe way that may now backfire on you with more lying? Is it possible that you co-created the lying?
Two, get curious about the situation. Ask questions that will help you to understand your child’s behavior and what led to the lie. This will help your child feel heard and understood.
- Take time to connect with your child in a neutral space. Sit with them and talk about their feelings and what they were thinking. This will help your child feel safe and loved.
- And by hearing your child’s story you can offer them compassion. Their actions were likely a result of not understanding the consequences or seriousness of the situation.
- Once equipped with this information, you can make an informed and fair assessment of the incident. Then you can decide on a corrective approach that will serve your child’s highest purpose. Look for a supportive method that will help your child learn a better way to handle the situation.
So, the next time your child lies, remember they are trying to protect themselves. Engaging with them using the 5C’s will not only help you get to the bottom of the situation. It will reduce the need to fib next time.