One Netflix remote destroyed by the knawing teeth of curious pups. Another ruined by old batteries. The ONE working remote has gone missing.
I know I put the remote on the counter.
It’s gone, and a kid is to blame.
How many times have I told them not to touch the stuff on the counters?
Seething inside, I search frantically high and low muttering under my breath.
I can’t find it, and I am irrationally angry about this.
The Mary Poppins mom vanished, and Wicked Witch took her place.
I hurl accusations.
“I know somebody is lying.”
“You always touch my stuff on the counters.”
“How could you do this to me?”
“God knows who took the remote.”
At this point, the kids are frantically searching for it, and it is discovered in the pantry.
Still boiling, I use the I’m about to scream but I’m not yet screaming screech, “Who put the remote in the pantry?!”
“I know she did it.”
“She is always touching your stuff on the counter.”
Not one confession.
The mystery of the missing remote remains unsolved.
Because in my fit of anger, I did everything I was not supposed to do when you want a child to be honest.
I lost my cool. I accused. I let my amygdala take over.
The secrets to handling lying and encouraging honesty are pretty simple if you operate from your prefrontal cortex, the rational side of your brain, most of the time.
That may be easier said than done depending on the severity of the lying and your kids special needs, but the positive parenting strategies to deal with lying remain the same.
I am blessed with wise friends who parent kids with special needs. They shared these positive parenting tips for handling lying with me. It works most of the time in our family.
My kids, who are adopted, had a traumatic early childhood. Lying can be more likely with kids who have experienced early childhood trauma because it is a coping and survival skill for them.
Let’s look at how this looks when you handle lying the right way.
As I cleaned my child’s bathroom, I notice a huge stash of candy under the sink.
This child doesn’t share a bathroom, frequently browses the food pantry, and grandpa previously reported child eating candy when I am not around.
It is pretty obvious this child hid the candy.
Later that day I casually say, “I noticed a lot of candy under the bathroom sink. I put it back in the pantry.”
Child replies, “I want to eat candy all the time.”
“I know. I wish I could eat candy all the time too. I put the candy on the high shelf so it’s not as easy to be tempted by it.”
“Let’s stick to eating candy when I give it as a snack. It’s not healthy to eat it all the time.”
“I wish I could eat it all the time.”
“Me too. I love candy.”
The first thing I did right was make an observation about what was wrong. “I noticed the candy under the sink.” I didn’t confront the child but started a discussion.
It does not help if you pretend you don’t notice to avoid a conflict. It may build anxiety in the child while she waits for the fall out from her misbehavior especially with children from traumatic backgrounds.
I did not accuse this child of stealing the candy. I stuck to a neutral observation. It puts the child on the defensive when accused, and they are less likely to practice honesty. Even if you see the child with your own eyes, stick to neutral observations and use “I wonder” or “I noticed” statements.
By making a neutral observation, I did not give my child a chance to lie. This is the biggest way to prevent lying.
In the above situation, the child admitted on their own way that they snuck the candy.
I’m not going to lie. Sometimes the observations don’t work, and they don’t acknowledge their wrongdoings.
Next, it’s important to keep your cool. At this stage, it can be a challenge because you usually know the truth, but your child isn’t ready to admit it. You may want to continue the discussion later if you feel yourself losing your temper.
If my child didn’t admit it, I can continue to establish or enforce a boundary based on the observation.
The candy is returned to the pantry regardless. The child is not permitted free access to the candy. The boundary is back in place.
Some parents want to enforce a further negative or logical consequence. I am not certain another consequence will encourage honesty in the future. It may prevent misbehavior in the future, but it may increase lying. Keep in mind that harsh punishments sometimes cause more lying because children are trying to avoid being punished. This is a personal family choice you need to make based on your values.
I showed empathy by telling my child, “I wish I could eat candy all the time, too.” Empathy can be used even if a child doesn’t admit to sneaking. I could have said, “I love to eat candy, and a special secret stash of candy to eat whenever I want sounds really nice.” This might encourage the child to tell the truth.
Even after doing all the right things, your child still might not admit to the truth. My kids are elementary age, and lying becomes more complicated with older children and teens. I am not sure how well they would carry over to older kids, but these strategies are worth trying with older children.
Positive parenting builds trust between you and your child. With a strong foundation of trust, an atmosphere of honesty is more likely to flourish.
If your child perpetually lies despite all positive parenting strategies, please don’t beat yourself up. You have not failed as a parent. Your child may have special needs or circumstances that require more or continued interventions from professionals like therapists and doctors.
Don’t give your children the opportunity to lie.
Take care of yourself, so it’s easier to practice using neutral observations and empathy to encourage honesty in your children.
With positive parenting strategies and our wits about us, hopefully we won’t have too many unsolved mysteries of missing remotes, candy, or Funny Face lipstick. Our children will value honesty as a virtue.