Hi Janet, how would you handle situations when a 6-year-old lies? What consequences would you implement?
Honestly, if my 6-year-old out-and-out lied to me, I would wonder what I had done to cause that. As the leader in our parent-child relationship, I would take it upon myself to discern how I had made the truth feel unsafe or uncomfortable for my child. Then I would do all in my power to repair this rift between us. I might say something like, “It seems that you don’t feel comfortable telling me the truth. I’m so sorry. I want you to know that you can always tell me anything and I will listen and help if I can, but not judge.”
(I sense the punitive parenting proponents sharpening their knives… Take a breath. Hear me out.)
Emotional intimacy with our children is a fragile gift that can easily break when we erode trust through punishments, shame, blame, scolding, or manipulation. When our children’s behavior is off-track, they need us to calmly stop them, help them, and guide them. They need to know we’re always in their corner (rather than sending them off to one), and that we will create safety – not only physical safety, but also safety in our regard for them –safety in our love and our “like,” a 100% safe relationship.
Alternatively, shaming or punishing children for lying creates distance and mistrust, which only encourage kids to lie better.
As for consequences, with the respectful parenting approach, consequences aren’t tactics to be “implemented” like just another form of punishment. If there are consequences, they are honest sharing of our own truths as parents. So, if there was a consequence in the case of a 6-year-old lying, it might look something like this (shared calmly and nonjudgmentally): “I am not going to be able to let you go to Juliet’s house again if you can’t tell me the truth about what you two did. I’m just not comfortable.”
There are a variety of reasons a child might lie in the early years (most of them so perfectly harmless that describing them as “lies” seems too strong a word). They are all motivated by the same thing: lying feels preferable to that child. In that particular moment, they may be experiencing:
Fear – the unfortunate result of our past anger and other emotional responses or punishments when our children have erred. It seems better to them to not admit they did it.
Shame, blame, embarrassment – because our focus has been “teaching our kids a lesson” rather than understanding the behavior. The real lesson has been our lack of empathy for their immature stage of development.
Remedy: Create safety with nonjudgmental responses like, “I hear you saying you didn’t hit your brother. It seems that he was hit. Please let me know whenever you feel like hitting, so I can be there to keep you safe.”
A need to test our leadership – children might “try out” mistruths to see if they have the power to ruffle their leaders’ feathers. If we fail this test, they might need to try it out again. And again.
Remedy: Disempower these tests by taking them in stride and connecting lightly and knowingly. “Hmm… you didn’t let the dog out, and yet out he is… Verrrry mysterious.”
Enjoyment of imagination and fantasy – children can become absorbed in their fantasies, even to the extent that it can be difficult for them to separate fantasy from reality. This a healthy stage of development children pass through, and they certainly don’t need us to jar them out of it.
Remedy: None. No need to worry, just enjoy with them. “You’re a purple dragon? Ah, yes, I can totally see that now.”
Wishful thinking, projecting, and visualizing success – children might imagine themselves succeeding at a task that, in reality, they didn’t even attempt. These projections can help them shore up the courage to do it the next time.
Remedy: Again, visualization is positive and healthy, so I would connect rather than correct. “You felt yourself going down the highest slide today. How did that feel?”
In all cases, our openness, curiosity and unruffled, unthreatened, patient responses are the best way to diffuse the need to fabricate. And they also go a long way in forging a relationship that forever eliminates the need for avoidance of the truth.
(Photo by Kevin Shorter on Flickr)