Friday, January 28, 2011

Liar, liar, pants on fire

Maybe George Washington never told a lie, but I know few people, adults or children who don't resort to some sort of fabricating, stretching of the truth or outright lying when faced with confrontation. Even from a young age, as early as 3, kids seem to intuitively avoid feelings of shame. For example, "did you do something to make the baby cry?" said in an accusing tone to your 3 year-old may follow with, "No, uh, uh not me. It was the dog who did it!" as the reply. As your children get older, the dog excuse again comes in handy when confronted by their teacher about the missing homework, as in "the dog ate it." Moving into the teenage years, the length and breadth of the lies seems to intensify, as does their creativity. This occurs to such extremes that teens start to believe their own "stories" and become indignant upon being discovered. 

As adults we often find ourselves in situations in which we use lying as a way to avoid hurting someone's feelings or to get ourselves out of uncomfortable situations. Kids observe us squirming our way through these situations and wonder why it's OK for us to "tell stories" but not OK for them. All right parents, you have to admit they do have us on that one. The job for parents is to figure out the difference between the harmless lies (the ones we tell) and the ones that mean your child is involving himself or herself in situations that you feel are inappropriate. In either case, you must create a climate in which there is a positive payoff for truth telling. 

Additionally, you need to do some self-analysis to determine whether your child is lying to you because your demands are usually non-negotiable and sometimes unrealistic. Remember that if parents say no too many times to too many things, your child will start to do them anyway. Kids cite this reason most often for lying to their parents, "they never let me do anything." Granted, some requests are off the wall. But instead of a carte-blanche "NO" - offer some alternatives that might make both parties happy and reduce the need for secrecy and lying.

Here are my three golden rules to encourage open honest communication.
  • Truth telling is encouraged through calm, loving, two-way conversation.
  • Leave room for negotiating and shared decision making.
  • Everybody makes mistakes.

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