Do you promise?
It’s a simple question that packs a punch in my house. When the kids were little I made sure they understood that when I asked, “Do you promise?” they knew they had better be prepared to tell me the truth. I can still ask my adult kids that question and it brings them to their knees.
Me: “Did you go church?”
Me: “Do you promise?”
Keegan: “Really, MA???” …sends a picture of the bulletin from his church on campus
Works every time.
I read a pretty good article recently.
It was about kids lying and what to do when you are pretty sure you know they lied, but you need to get them to admit…or confess. The article had some really great pointers, but honestly (no pun intended) I thought it made light of a potentially serious character flaw that many parents are willing to turn a blind eye to. This is a very dangerous precedence to set, and I believe it is grossly underestimated how important your child(s) integrity…their honor…is to their developmental well-being.
I may sound dramatic, I understand. But I’ve never regretted emphasizing to my children the non-negotiable nature of honesty, especially within a family. My husband and I treat their honesty or lack thereof, as a point of paramount importance in our parenting… and their development.
In our house, lying is the one behavior that we will never allow a child to get away with. EVER. Once they lie about something, we make it known to them that they have to earn our trust back. And it will require work. They can begin learning this process at a young age.
For an example of letting them know how their decision to be untruthful affects everything, I set this interaction up the day after having dealt with an issue of deceit from my child:
“Did you feed the dog?” (I intentionally pick something that I didn’t see them do and therefore I need to be able to trust their honesty about it)
“But how can I be sure you fed her?”
“Because I said I did.”
“But that’s what you said yesterday about (xyz) and you lied to me then. How do I know that I can trust you now?”
They usually look at me with gigantic, blinking watery eyes as they come to understand the reality of their choice from the day before. It’s not an easy conversation to have. Especially when they’re little and super cute. But it’s critical to get the point across.
The article spoke repeatedly about showing empathy and focusing on the positive.
“What would I do if a child took my sharp scissors and hid them and I thought they did it, and I approached them and asked and they said ‘no no,’ but I think they have them? How do you get them to admit that?” Willson says. “I would try to trick them and say ‘I really need my scissors to do my work. I can’t do this, I can’t do that. I need them to be here.’ And the next thing you know, they’re there. They say, ‘You left them in my room.’ And I’d say ‘oh, you found them for me. Thank you very much. I will reward you for being truthful and fair.’ Focus on the positive, not the negative.”
I get that, but IMHO, there rarely is a positive when it comes to lying. And this little one just got away with TWO deceitful acts. He took the scissors and then lied about someone else leaving them in his room. I can’t get behind that method.
I’ve had some experience with this, and I’m sure she’ll be excited that I’m writing about it.
Abby first lied when she was about three. It’s a fairly normal age, developmentally, for this behavior so I wasn’t too surprised by her actions. What I was surprised about, though, was her ability to hold up the lie. It was incredibly difficult to get her to admit to us that she had been untruthful. We would do all the usual tactics that worked on her older siblings: talking, disciplining, removing privileges…all to no avail. She would get herself so backed into a corner that she actually started believing the lie.
But we couldn’t let it go because we had eight(ish) other kids watching. Some were old enough to understand what we needed to accomplish and I knew, even if we lightened up on Abby, they would not take advantage of us by being untruthful or dishonest. We had used the exact same tactics with them, and they well understood the value of honesty within a family. The younger ones, though, were watching very closely. We had to consider their future integrity as well. If Abby got away with a lie, they would know exactly how to do it as well.
Don’t ever underestimate how smart your children are.
And so we persisted. Sometimes for hours, taking shifts. It was exhausting.
Occasionally we would start to doubt what we thought we knew to be the truth. Was there any possibility that what we thought was the truth, actually wasn’t? Could we have misjudged the situation? My husband and I would sit down and rehash what we knew. We would ask the older kids for any knowledge they had of the situation. Sometimes we would ask the kids to talk to her, especially if they had tried a similar scheme. After, we would re-assess, then confirm our suspicions. And then we would go back into the arena (usually Abby’s bedroom). This would continue until we could find the point at which she would finally let down her walls and confess the truth to us.
Did I mention it was exhausting?
There were days that Kevin and I would look at each other and say, “When she is over this horrible phase, we will look back and smile at what a beautiful young woman she has become. It will be worth this.” And it absolutely was.
Some lies were easier to determine than others.
When the kids were little, one of their daily chores was to make their bed and put away all the books on their bed that they had read the night before. One day, I saw a book peeking out from under four-year-old Abby’s bed skirt. I bent down to pick it up and could instantly tell that this one book was the proverbial tip of the iceberg. When I lifted the bed skirt, I found about 75 picture books under her bed that she had chosen to stuff there instead of putting away on her shelves. Weeks of dishonesty was sitting right in front of me and I had to make a plan, fast. I asked her how they got there, and she said, “I didn’t put them there.” Now, I realize that cramming books under her bed wasn’t a character flaw, but the underlying issue was. If I let her get away with this at age four, what would she try at age five? Six? Fifteen? That was a very scary thought process to entertain. Visions of her lying to us about grades, boys and where and with whom she was spending her time came flooding into my head. I knew I had to get a handle on this situation and that I couldn’t let Abby down by not being the best mother I could possibly be. Again, my husband was completely on the same page as me.
This one ended pretty easily because her little brother came in and happily announced that she had told him to do it to his books as well! She confessed and was disciplined accordingly: she lost access to books at bedtime while her little brother sharing her room still enjoyed the privilege.
Another time, when Abby was a little older she was in the bathroom where her older sister had left her makeup. Abby wasn’t old enough to wear makeup yet but was very intrigued by the idea. I already knew this and I was an expert, sadly, at Abby’s mannerisms when she was choosing dishonesty. Her body language gave her away every time.
She came out of the bathroom that day, head down and ducked around the corner to head up the stairs.
“Abby? Come here.”
She came but stayed a healthy distance from me. I came closer to confirm my suspicions. She had a messy-ish line of eyeliner under her lashes.
The questions ensued, the dishonesty came. I pulled her over to a mirror and we looked at her eyes together. “I’m not dumb, Abby. I see the eyeliner.” She immediately cried and said she had no idea why she did it and why she lied. My heart broke for her. She was struggling with something inside, and I had to help her.
The hard work paid off.
Each and every time she lied, it was addressed. Some lies were the work of a child, some were a bit harder to get to the truth. All of them affected our family. The kids knew how hard we were working to get through to Abby. They knew we were tired. Some of them started to resent her and the tension that was building in our home. Sometimes they didn’t want to be around her. Kelly watched, being the oldest still at home. She struggled a lot with Abby’s choices and she saw how hard it was on us. It affected their relationship for a few years.
Abby had done damage to her relationships with her siblings and when she was old enough to understand it, she set out to make it right. It was a long, long road for her and I watched her work so hard at being a better daughter, a better sister and a truthful young lady.
She and Kelly had the most work to do…and they did. I’m thrilled to say that today, after years of prayer and rebuilding, they have a very special sisterly bond.
It was worth the work.