Sad but true. We all lie to some extent and at one time or another. Lies of omission? We choose not to tell something that is relevant. Lies of commission? We are typically trying to get out of something. Lies of convenience? We just don’t want to bother with or see the need for telling the truth. Lies of power? We build ourselves up or put others down simply to make ourselves feel better. While, hopefully, lying is not the norm in your family, it does occur. So, what do we do as parents about lying?
We had moved to a new neighborhood and our children had entered a new school. Our son was in the first grade and we attended the first parents’ night of the school year. “So, what’s it like moving here from Texas over this past summer,” his teacher innocently asked to start the meeting. In fact, we had moved from across town. Our son had told this lie to both the teacher and all the class, at 6 years old! We corrected the lie with the teacher and had a sit-down with our son after we got home.
His lie was either one of convenience or one of power, but a lie is a lie. At that point, we had several options. We could have laughed it off. “Whoa! That was a good one, son. You really got your teacher with that one.” That response would have reinforced his actions and gotten his brain going about the genius of his next lie. We could have angrily over-reacted. “I did not raise you to become a liar. Who do you think you are? Go to your room.” That response would have injured his self-esteem, distanced us in relationship and conveyed my power at his expense.
In effectively confronting lying behavior, see the words as evidence of your child having a problem, an emotional fever. You’re go-to response? Active listening. “Wow, son, lying is just not like you. What’s going on? Where did that come from?” After helping him connect his actions with his feelings, and seeing his fever coming down, switch to helping him appreciate the consequences of his actions. The children’s story about crying wolf comes to mind as a metaphor that helps him understand the value of telling the truth. This becomes a teachable moment for your child.
When your child lies to get out of trouble (“Who made this mess?” “Not me, daddy, it was sissy.”) and you have hard proof of the truth, use what I call the Two Troubles principle. Recap the situation with your child and ask how much trouble he wants to buy? He’s in one trouble for his actions. Does he want two troubles for lying about his actions? Natural consequences for lying start with heart-felt apology and may include some tangible action, such as physical labor or extra chores, as a reminder of the cost of lying. What to do about lying? These are some practical thoughts that preserve your child’s self-esteem, your relationship with him, and also provide teachable moments.
Well, the answer is, they can be both, depending on how productive your leadership is. If you are the boss in your family, and everybody better just get in line, then family meetings will be seen as boring. Many a smart-mouthed teen will comment, “We’re just gonna do what you want us to do, so why bother?” This teen would be calling out his parent on the hypocrisy of a family meeting.
Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be that way. It is true that a family is not a democracy. If you have more than two children, imagine putting things to a democratic, simple majority vote. The Kids Party will vote together every time. However, if you, as the parent, function as a benevolent despot, then kids have a voice, while you make the choice.
As benevolent despot, you have the ultimate authority in your home, in all ways. However, focus on the benevolent part. That means you know and understand each family member, search for their feelings, and want their input. They understand that you will do what’s best for all family members. Active listening is the go-to communication tool in understanding your child’s feelings and perspective.
For family meetings to be helpful, there needs to be both consistency and structure. Perhaps for a half hour, after Sunday church, during family lunchtime, could be a time when family meetings can take place. This can be a check-in time for everybody, where the past week’s events can be reviewed and the coming week’s events can be planned. Great way to coordinate schedules in a busy family.
If one of these regularly scheduled family meetings has a specific purpose, for example, planning a summer family vacation, then all family members need a heads-up before the meeting. This would be setting the agenda. It also gets people thinking about what they want to contribute. After prayer, to acknowledge God’s presence in the family, and re-stating the purpose of the family meeting, I encourage parents to ask for the youngest child’s input first. There will be banter and sibling rivalry. People will go out of turn. Parents gently rein in detractors.
Start with brainstorming ideas without comment. This gets the creative juices going and encourages involvement. Help people stay on task. Have one person be the designated secretary and write options down. Next, talk about the good and the bad about each option. Again, use your active listening to help others get at the heart of their reasoning. Look for consensus among the options.
If there is not consensus, as parents, you get to make the final choice. That’s the despot part, but with heartfelt understanding and consideration of everyone’s thoughts and feelings. That’s the benevolence part. With a proposed solution, get all family members involved in making it happen. Assign tasks for everyone, even the littlest family member if possible. This participation encourages involvement and acceptance, focusing on the positives. Finally, identify the next family meeting to review progress and stay on task.
Family meetings can be boring, or they can be helpful. The more you address your children’s needs and feelings, the more heard they feel, the more family meetings can be helpful.
In life, at all ages, there is one, absolute and common rule. Do good and good things will happen. Do bad and bad things will happen. As parents, we want this to be our guiding principle for disciplining our children. Reward is the outcome when our children are doing good. Punishment is the consequence when they are doing bad. For some reason, most parents are more tuned in to the doing bad part of being a child. It takes effort to catch our children being good.
Ten year old Nick has been re-writing his spelling words for 20 minutes now. After supper, he scooted to his room, turned off his electronics, and got down to homework without even being told to do so. His mom peeked in his doorway and smiled at him. He’s so cute when the tip of his tongue sneaks out the corner of his mouth as he is concentrating.
Just then, Nick catches his mom watching him. “What??” and he frowns, “Leave me alone.” “Careful, son. Watch your tone,” mom scolds. Nick frowns, throws his pencil down, and stomps past his mom in silence to use the bathroom.
Mom just blew a perfect opportunity to catch Nick being good. In such circumstances, I encourage parents to use what is called “The Sandwich Effect.” When you find a need to correct your child’s behavior or attitude, put the caution between two praise comments, like two slices of bread with meat in between.
As Nick breezed by her, mom could have said, “Aww. You are knocking out those spelling words. I bet you do great on the test tomorrow.” That’s a praise comment. Follow it with a caution, “Not sure how the attitude fits in here. I didn’t mean to break your concentration.” And finish with another praise comment, “I’m so proud of you for tackling these spelling words on your own. Let me know if you want me to quiz you later.”
The two praise comments for every caution or correction is a good ratio to follow. Over time, you get tuned in to catching your child being good, and your child receives the criticism without making matters worse. Kids always test the limits and, by nature, can wear us out. In Ephesians 6, the apostle Paul cautions children to obey their parents, as the right thing to do, and parents to not provoke their anger, but bring them up in the ways of the Lord. The best way to do that is to catch them being good
My daughter was maybe 4 years old. I was outside talking to our neighbor one Saturday morning when Rachel came up to me. While I’m talking, she tugs on my pant leg and tells me, “Daddy, I need some attention.”
Wow! I know some dads who would have brushed their daughter’s hand away and dismissed her with, “Not now, honey, can’t you see I’m busy?” That would have been taking in the big picture, prioritizing my needs and pulling a power play at my daughter’s expense. Thankfully, I did not do that. I motioned a pause to my friend, knelt down to be on eye level with Rachel, and asked, “Okay, Sweetheart, what’s going on?”
I can’t think of a more loving thing that my daughter could have done in that instant than to identify her feelings, seek consolation, and get feedback. Rachel was loving herself.
Many children live in an environment where they should be seen but not heard. To the contrary, as loving parents, we want to encourage our children to love themselves. In Scripture, Jesus calls us in his second greatest commandment to “love one another as you love yourself.” That is, loving myself, which means understanding and attending to my needs and feelings, is a prerequisite for loving one another.
Children, and grown-ups for that matter, can demonstrate loving themselves by several specific ways. First, make time to both eat and sleep well. This is how we keep our bodies strong and resilient. Exercise healthy diet, be active, and make time for fun. Second, have family and friends with whom you can share your honest feelings. Some people call this a confidante relationship, oftentimes found in BFFs, someone with whom you are Best Friends Forever. Third, children and adults alike often benefit from keeping a journal of events and feelings. This is like being best friends with yourself, celebrating today’s challenges and victories, while making plans for tomorrow. Finally, as a part of developing a personal relationship with Jesus, make time for individual and family devotion and prayer. This involves sharing your day and hearing from Him about questions and circumstances.
Do your children love themselves? They will take their lead from you. Developing these 4 habits will help us all move from surviving this life to thriving.