We don’t want our children to lie. We want them to tell us the truth. So when they do lie, how do we respond in a way that promotes truth-telling?
Shift the way you see lying
Instead of seeing lying as “bad,” I want you to remember that lying is actually a huge developmental milestone. The ability to hold the truth AND the non-truth in mind at the same time as coping with multiple feelings about this is huge.
Even though our children lying to us can show us that they have reached a huge developmental milestone, we don’t want this behaviour to continue. So, what can we do about it?
When we are responding to lying, we want to make sure that we are doing it to promote truth-telling to our children and ensure that they feel comfortable coming to us in the future if they have something to tell us.
Alright, so when you notice that your child has reached a new developmental milestone and they are beginning to lie to you about things, here are some tools that you can use as you support them through this behaviour:
Take a moment to calm yourself
If you know you have caught your child in a lie, take a moment to regulate yourself. This is an incredible opportunity to model truth-telling, and it will be so much easier to have this conversation when you are calm.
Narrate what you know is true about the situation out loud
Avoid shaming them or calling them a liar. Be factual about what happened.
“On one hand, I hear you say you didn’t eat the cookie, and on the other hand, no one else was home, and the cookie is gone. Can you help me get curious about what’s going on here?”
It’s ok to take a break
Sometimes if you know they are lying and they are not budging on telling you the truth, you can take a pause and come back to the conversation later.
“Let’s pause this, and we will come back to this conversation later.”
Later, when you are playing: “Hey babe, remember that conversation about the cookie earlier? It’s still on my mind. Is it possible you ate it?”
Most often, if you take a small break from trying to “figure out the lie” and come back to the story a little while later in a casual way, the truth will surface. It takes a lot of mental work for a child to lie, and sometimes all you need is a break, a moment of connection between the two of you, and the truth will come out.
Validate their feelings
Tell a story of sameness to your child so they know you understand.
“Telling the truth can be hard sometimes, I get that. When I was little, sometimes I would lie too, and I learned that it feels good to tell the truth.”
Focus on natural/logical consequences
If the truth is something they did wrong, focus on the natural/logical consequence for this action but do not give more power to the lying.
For example, if your child broke a vase and lied about it, thank your child for telling you the truth and express your gratitude for the truth. Work together to clean up the vase explaining that when you break something, you need to clean it up.
Tune into the relationship
If you are experiencing a lot of lying – tune back into the relationship. Was there a time when your child told you the truth, and you got very upset with them? Was there a time when they felt worried or ashamed of the truth? Focus back in on the relationship and helping your child feel safe coming to you with all truths.
I hope that these tools will help make lying at least a little bit less daunting of a behaviour and that you can use them to support your children through this! For more tools for supporting your little ones with challenging behaviours, check out our best-selling parenting course Parenting Little Kids!