Ask the Experts—Encouraging the Truth
In this new column, we ask local experts to give answers to the real parenting questions and issues that we all may face. This month’s question:
My child is lying to me! About everything, from the benign (yes, I cleaned my room) to the more severe (I did not take that dollar). How can I encourage my child to tell the truth?
Donnie Van Curen, M.A., LMFT:
First I would caution any parent to remember that lying is a part of childhood. Kids don't have to learn to lie, they have to learn to tell the truth, and this is where parenting comes in. As with any discipline issue, the key is to recognize the opportunity as a parent to train your child. Children at any age should be taught that there are consequences, good or bad, for every decision. When a child makes the decision to lie, it is important to assist him in understanding the motivation behind this decision, and then to appreciate the consequences of such action (and don't forget positive consequences for making the right decisions). The hope here is that at some point he will learn to evaluate the consequences before the action. The most important thing to remember as parents is to be consistent. Children do not learn because of what they are told, they learn from the experience of doing something.
Donnie Van Curen M.A., LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with Counseling 1820, LLC. Contact him at 405-823-4302 or www.counseling1820.com.
Kevin Tutty, LCSW:
Don’t ask your child if he did what you suspected, especially if you think you know the truth is not what he is telling you. Instead, hold him accountable for his behavior, telling him that he has yet to prove to you he is telling the truth. This strategy will serve two purposes: first, it ensures that there is only one consequence for his behavior; and second, it prevents him from honing his skills for lying by coming up with new stories.
Don’t give him the opportunity to see what lies he can get away with, because as he gets older, it will be more difficult to discern whether he is telling the truth or lying.
Kevin Tutty, LPC, is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice. Contact him at 405-431-6225.
John Goetz, LPC:
Lying is a form of denial, which in turn is a basic human defense mechanism learned at an early age. Lying’s basic purpose is to avoid punishment or a negative situation. Many, if not most, children will be tempted to try this skill out. If they discover it works with say a 50 percent chance of success, they may choose to add it to their tool box of skills.
Children operate in the here and now; a 50 percent chance of getting a “yes” instead of a “no” or to avoid perceived punishment may seem like a reasonable chance. As a society we tolerate and even reward some level of lying. In politics it’s called spin; for celebrities in the media, it involves going to rehab; on Wall Street you receive a bailout; and on the home front, we drive 45 when the speed limit is 40 and occasionally float through stop signs.
So what is a parent to do? Stick to your morals. A lie is a violation of trust, so when a child lies, he loses some of your trust. When he tells the truth, reward him with trust.
But, I believe there is even a simpler answer to a significant number of these situations: do not give children a chance to lie. As a parent you are omnipotent and omniscient (all powerful and all knowing) to a young child. Do you really need to ask who spilled the juice or do you need the child or the children to clean it up?
But, you say, how do you know which child did it? You don’t—so they can both clean it up and you can use this as an opportunity to teach that them an honorable person admits his wrong-doing and doesn’t rely on others to clean up his messes (actual or proverbial).
As a watchful parent, you know when a dishonest sibling may need to be singled out based on your omniscient mom/dad powers; do not hesitate to do so. Yes, this is unfair, but if you trust yourself as the parent who is in control, I believe you will be correct 90 percent of the time. Teach children this when they are very young so as teens they will believe you have a sixth sense.
John Goetz, LPC, is a Licensed Professional Counselor with Edmond Family Counseling. Contact him at 405-341-3554,
We posted the same question to our readers, and here are their responses:
- I always tell my kids that the punishment is worse if you lie. The example I give is that the punishment for an offense is one day of no TV/video games, then the punishment for lying about it is an additional day of no TV/video games. It hasn’t cured it yet, but it has reduced it.
- One approach is to tell her that anytime she is in the middle of a lie, to stop and hold her hands out and say that she would like to start over again. And, if she does, assure her that you will not fuss at her for starting to lie.
- Some churches have special classes to help kids with problems like these. Or, the YMCA or the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program. Sometimes kids learn better from someone who isn’t their parent.
- I try to remind the kids that the truth always comes out because it’s much easier to remember the truth. Lies always seem to cause more lies. I also try to emphasize the importance of trust to my children; if they continue to choose to lie rather than tell the truth, I cannot trust them; with trust comes privileges.
Thank you to our readers Carolyn J., Gaye B., Marge H. and Jennifer S. for your feedback!
Do you have a question for our experts? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll put the experts to work for you.