When a client comes to me frustrated because their child did something "wrong," many times, this is what I hear next: "And THEN, she LIED to me about it! I wouldn't have even been that mad if she had just told me the truth!" Full disclosure -- those exact words have, on occasion, come out of my own mouth.
I often ask my client, "Why is that a problem?"
I'm met with a blank stare. "What do you mean why is that a problem? Good people don't lie!" Sometimes that even gets followed up with catastrophizing: the client worries the child might end up unable to hold a job, or divorced, or in prison.
Here's the truth: kids lie. Some studies show that young children lie as much as once every hour. Another study says that peak lying happens in the teen years. Regardless of their age, your children are likely lying to you sometimes. It's not because you're a bad parent. It's not because they don't know better. And it's not because they're a bad kid. There are no bad kids.
So why did your child lie? The most common cause for older children and teens is a feeling of dread or fear. It could be your child is scared of the consequence. It could be your child loves you so much that he's afraid of disappointing you. It could be he's afraid of what might happen to a friend or a sibling. He could be lying because he's dreading the lecture he knows will follow. It's is natural and human to want to minimize negative consequences.
How do you get your child to tell you the truth? We know that actions come from feelings. What your child did or who your child is, is not causing her to lie. It's the feeling of dread or fear that leads to the lying. And why is your child feeling so much fear or dread? Because she's thinking something like, "My Dad is going to kill me. He would never understand. I'm going to get grounded for a month. I'm never going to hear the end of this."
The best way to get to truth is to help your child feel something more positive that would lead to truth. Fix the fear and dread, and we fix the lie.
Here's how: Feelings come from thoughts, so help your child find thoughts that will lead to a different feeling. Some things I like to tell my children: "I'm here for you no matter what. Whatever happened, we're going to get through this together. I'm always a safe place for you. You can tell me anything, and I can help you work it out." Those types of thoughts minimize fear and maximize feelings of safety and security and confidence. Safety, security, and confidence lead to truth and problem solving.
If you find your child lying frequently, don't make it mean anything. Just ask yourself or your child, what is she feeling that is causing the lying? What are the thoughts she's having to make her feel that way? And then finally, how can I help her think differently so that she will feel safe and confident enough to tell me the truth? This will not only help correct the lying, it will lead to more connection, more love, and more thoughtful choices in the future.