When children and teens tell me why they lie to their parents, it is usually that they feel “caught,” are trying to avoid punishment, or feel threatened. Often lying is a sign of low self-worth. Children and teens who tend to lie think they need to make themselves look better because they don't know they are good enough as they are.
After twenty-three years of working with families as a psychologist, I can tell you this harsh truth: Lies erode trust and damage emotional safety in parent-child relationships! None of us are perfect in resisting the temptation to lie. We are, after all, only human. Below are four suggestions, however, on how to strengthen that valuable sense of emotional safety to help encourage your children to resist lying to you:
- Look for solutions to problems instead of seeking to blame. So, for example, you could say, "What should we do about you getting your homework done?”," instead of “Why didn’t you do your homework?”
- Strive to be honest, yourself. You could say, “What you are saying really does not sound like the truth to me. I know that I have told lies when I have felt trapped, scared, or threatened in some way. How about we put this concern off right now? We can talk later if you would like to share with me what is going on for you."
- Watch yourself for language that triggers lying. Kids can feel shame when you ask them questions which you already know the answer. "Did you wash your hands?" Instead say, "I notice you didn't wash your hands, how can I help you remember to wash them?
- I know this last suggestion is hard, but also try to respect your child’s privacy when he or she doesn’t want to share with you.
Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein is a psychologist, personal, and executive coach, and motivational speaker in the greater Philadelphia area. He has been on the Today Show, Radio, and has written four popular books, including 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child. You can also follow him on Twitter.