Lying is a common behavior for children to experiment while growing up. There are plenty of reasons they lie: to avoid being punished, to please a parent, feelings of guilt, or even speaking before thinking and lying impulsively. Regardless of the reason, it is important to help children understand WHY lying is a negative behavior and HOW avoiding it will actually make their lives easier: now and in the future. Teaching the “why” and “how” will help children to make an educated decision and CHOOSE honest behavior, learning its value for themselves.
It is important to keep your child’s trust and show them how they can keep yours as well. Extreme or extensive punishments may drive them to feel that lying is better than the potential consequences of lying, which they may feel could help them avoid consequences completely. Punishments for lying need to be specific to the offending dishonest behavior, but not so extreme that they are worse than the offending action.
Give your child safe opportunities to tell the truth, and avoid or decrease their consequences. Have conversations that help children to realize that honesty will help them, and how it builds trust in your relationship. Don’t try to catch them in a lie or set them up in difficult situations that may lead them to feel it is necessary.
1. The Double Punishment Approach
This is an effective tactic to be used in a household for children to recognize that lying makes a bad situation worse, and how honesty can improve their situation.
When a child acts irresponsibly, a consequence will follow such as no tv for a day. Speak with your child about the importance of honesty and how it will make their situation better and their life easier. Let your child know that they will only lose one day of tv if they tell the truth. If they choose to lie, they will receive the “double punishment” and lose tv for an additional two days.
Remind them of the double punishment rule that accompanies lying, and provide a calm environment where telling the truth will be easy, and won’t invoke additional punishment or anger.
Children learn that lying is a separate offense and will make their life harder. They value honesty. It ends a bad situation and prevents further repercussions.
2. Periodic Loss of a Privilege
This is where parents take away something that a child values as a consequence of undesirable behavior. This could be a variety of things: a book, tablet, or phone. This shows that lying makes situations more difficult.
Match the nature of the crime and not to be extreme in the punishment. Taking something away for too long will make the child feel angry and defeated, villainizing the parent rather than correctly associating their dishonest behavior as the cause of their unpleasant situation.
To avoid this incorrect association, don’t take the item or privilege for longer than a few hours or a couple of days. Do not take away a one-time experience or largely anticipated opportunity such as a sports game, birthday party, prom, or a fun activity the whole family will participate in without them. This will maintain trust with your child and show that you value important events in their lives.
3. Additional Chores
After talking with the child about why their behavior was wrong, help them to see how lying can make this poor decision or action even more difficult to come back from. Once the child is able to understand that lying is a separate action and will make things worse, you can assign them an additional chore or task to complete.
Don’t assign chores the child cannot accomplish alone or something they need to do anyways such as making their bed or cleaning their room. Older children could clean a bathroom. Younger children could pick up toys.
4. Time Out
A “time out” often means sending a child to their room to think without a phone or other distraction there that may make the time feel the same as any other day. Strong emotions can cloud judgment for parents and children, time apart cultivates more logical thinking.
Setting a timer can ensure the child isn’t left for too long.
Approach your child with love and understanding. Make it easy for them to trust and confide in you. Apologize for any poor choices on your part, and thank them for the good choices they made, such as waiting in their room.
Discuss how it feels to be lied to, and how honesty improves the situation. Explain that you value honesty and that while they may be punished for the bad action, honesty won’t bring more anger or consequences.
5. No Friends for a Day
Most friends enjoy going outside and playing with neighbor kids or having friends over for play dates. As a consequence for lying, you could have them stay home without friends for a day.
Help them to realize that in relationships with family and friends, you need to cultivate a bond of trust. Discuss how lying can make it difficult to value someone’s opinion or want to spend time with them.
6. Help a Parent or Sibling
While there are benefits to sending a child to do chores on their own, this may also be a good idea. When a child lies, you can send them to help a parent or sibling with a chore or other task. Like helping Dad with the car, a sibling clean their room, or helping Mom in the garden or making dinner.
Explain to the child how lying can break trust. Let them know that serving or helping others, like their assigned task, can help rebuild that trust in a relationship.
7. Apology Note or Picture
You could have the child write a note or draw a picture (age-dependent) to apologize to the person they lied to or lied about. This can help them rebuild a trusting relationship and recognize the consequences that lies have on others.
When they understand why it is wrong and feel bad, have them practice sincere apologies with you. Then, they can apologize in person and deliver the note or picture.