What if he lied about what he did?
I have been asked twice in the last three weeks about what to do when your 8-11 year old does something wrong (breaks a rule or an object) and then either refuses to “fess up” or lies.
Here’s the thing. As a parent its always best to simply deal with the infraction when you can and not get caught in the ‘he’s lying’ trap. If you know or are pretty sure that your child has done something wrong—they are simply busted—they don’t need to confess, parenting isn’t a democracy and there’s no need for the confession. If you find that eventually you are wrong about the charges you can simply apologize and model being wrong graciously.
Here’s why not to get caught or worry about the whole lying thing. Children and even young teens don’t have brains that are that well set up to deal with big stress. They have limited options compared with adult brains. Adult brains can manage stress a number of ways. If you as grown up mess up something big you can laugh at yourself, you can remember times when you actually did the right thing, you can imagine making up for your mistake, you can rationalize why you made the mistake, you can plan for ways that you can do it differently. Children mostly have two options: they can choose denial that it happened or they can say the thing they wish happened, or they can go numb and not feel it. To parents this looks and feels like lying or a lack of remorse. And most parents panic that this means their child will grow up to be an axe murderer. Truth be told, most adults try this first as well (think of all the politicians and sports figure who say “I don’t’ recall” or “I didn’t’ do it.”)
If you know they did it. Just say so. If you track your teen's whereabouts on your cell phone, then don’t ask. Just say it. Let the problem be the problem: the broken ipod or the broken rule. Don’t add “lying’ to the mix because then you are trying to solve two problems at once. Not to mention that when you pretend not to know as in “where were you?” when you actually know, you are lying to get to some ‘truth’ which you have to admit is confusing.
The kids who have the easiest time telling the truth are kids with hot-headed tempers who often don’t care about the consequences and really, really easy going kids who roll with consequences. All the other kids in the middle tend to struggle.
Remember that kids have a hard time holding both sides of a problem (I can be a good kid and do a bad thing) so if you want to help your children to speak the truth, then you have to help them hold both of those things at the same time. And learning to speak the truth takes as much time as learning everything else, maybe more. We don’t expect that they get it right with math all the time, and they aren’t going to get it right with this either all the time. Your honest reaction to the infraction “I am really disappointed that you didn’t follow the rule” is often enough to have real conversation about the broken rule or item. The calmer the conversation and the child, the more likely you will have a real conversation.
© 2015 Gretchen Schmelzer, PhD