No More Lies

No More Lies

A question many parents face is what to do when their children tell a lie. The book, Nurture Shock adds fuel to the fire by saying that all children lie.

While this may be statistically true, it's not a very empowering view for parents or children. Try this one instead:

Children turn to lies when they don't have any other way to get what they want or need. Offer them a way to meet their needs inside your boundaries, or offer a strong dose of understanding, and they don't lie.


When lying has begun, you can reverse it by helping them see why they would lie and by giving them an alternative approach.

Young children are honest to a fault. When asked why they lie to get something, most will tell you, "I really wanted it!" It seems plain as day to them. Why else would an honest kid tell a story to get something?

Rather than asking, "Why did you lie?" which leaves a child feeling defensive, dishonest and inclined to hide even more from you, it's up to the parent to help the child find out why an honest kid would feel he or she needed to. When you look at what led up to the lie, there's a good chance that the child had already exhausted all the honest alternatives but none had worked.

In the beginning, children usually ask directly for what they want. If they don't feel like you understand the importance of their request, they switch the words "I want it," to  "I need it." That's the first step of an escalation and your clue that the child doesn't feel heard. If you still don't get how important something is to the child, he/she will look for other ways to prove it, like going behind your back or lying. That is the child acting out the communication.

Most children will not lie if they feel they have an honest alternative for fulfilling their wants and needs or at least gaining your understanding of what a big deal something is to them. If your child has turned to lying, you can assume they don't know what else to do to, so it is up to you to give them some honest alternatives.

Basically, a child lying is a parent's cue to help brainstorm some honest solutions.

SAYing WHAT YOU SEE openly and honestly without negative judgment, setting a boundary and offering a CAN DO would sound like this:

SAY WHAT YOU SEE: "You really wanted that and nothing you said or did worked, so you found something that did."

CAN DO: "Making up a story to get what you want is not OK with me. There must be some way you can be honest with me."

Now you can brainstorm honest alternatives. For instance, if the rule is one snack a day, and the child wants two, rather than tell you, "I didn't get one yet," she could ask for seconds. If seconds are not OK with you today, find a day when they would be OK, or make a special day once a month like "Two-Snack Day." If it's never OK to have 2 snacks, grant the wish in fantasy as in:

CAN DO (Wish): "You want two snacks today really badly, and you can only have one. Rats! You wish you could have two every day, or even three or four...snacks everywhere you turn, any time you want, a whole room full of snacks. Snacks falling out of the cupboards - sweet ones, chocolate ones, crunchy ones, blue ones, orange ones..."

By now little ones who like to pretend usually join in, add their own ideas, and keep pretending until they are done. Brainstorming with a child even in pretend shows the child you understand how much he/she wants something and that it's OK to want it, which believe it or not, is really the point anyway.

A little known truth is that kids must continue to communicate until they are heard.

Since lying is basically another form of escalation to get you to hear, listening to understand and offering honest alternatives gets them heard and keeps them from needing to lie in the first place.

When your child feels heard, talk about how her body feels when she is telling the truth compared to how she feels when she thinks she can't be honest. Help her find those different feelings in her body. Often children will tell you that they have a knot in their stomach when they think they have to lie, and feel at ease when they are honest. Let her know she can trust that feeling to guide her in life, and if she ever feels caught between the two again, encourage her to talk to you first so you can help her figure out how to stay honest and get what she wants, too, or at least get through the disappointment if she can't have what she wants right now.

There's a lot more about CAN DOs in the little SAY WHAT YOU SEE handbook posted online in full. It's a quick read and a simple approach for parents who want more hugs, more respect and more honesty.

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