One of the most surprising and difficult challenges my wife and I have faced as parents came when we discovered that our kids are not perfect. It is baffling that they make mistakes and misbehave! That’s what everybody else’s kids do, not mine! I just figured they would be born sinless and grow up strictly walking the straight and narrow. How painful to find out the opposite is true.
The worst is the lying. (Or at least the worst we’ve seen so far).
They start early, but they get really good at the dark art of falsifying facts around the 10th year. So did I, when I was coming along, and probably you too. In the green mind of a preteen, lying is a wonderful way to get out of trouble. The following conversation might sound all too familiar to you:
Parent asks, “Did you shoot a cardboard box with your BB gun and leave the shredded trash all over the yard?”
Son answers, “Huh?”
Parent, “I said. . .” and the parent repeats the question.
Son, “I didn’t know it shredded up like that.”
Parent, “You didn’t know shooting the box would cause it to shred up?”
Son, “No. When I went over to [neighbor friend]’s house, it wasn’t shredded up then.”
Parent, “Oh really?”
Son, “I wonder if the dog might have done that after I left?”
Parent, “Yeah, I wonder. . .”
Some variation of this conversation can be heard on a regular basis around my five-kid house. So I guess my kids aren’t perfect after all. What about yours?
In personally dealing with the business of lying kids, I’ve been thinking of some guiding principles to operate by. Maybe some of these will help you too.
Express the importance of truth telling
It doesn’t seem to me that most children see lying as a big deal. Parents have the God-given task of making sure children know that it is (Deut 6:7). The Bible is full of verses you can show kids to make clear that lying is nothing short of sinful rebellion against a holy God.
They must know that when they lie, they are breaking one of the Ten Commandments: Exodus 20:16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
When you reveal this to them, say, “Look, when you lie you aren’t breaking some small, insignificant rule that God doesn’t care about. You are breaking one of his main laws. God is truth and loves truth, and when you lie you are not following God, but you are following the way of the devil.” Then you can show them this verse:
John 8:44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
It is a good idea to show them other parts of the Bible as well, so they get the point. Like:
Proverbs 12:22 Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight.
In presenting God’s Word to a lying child, you are really blessing him. Lying may be come so natural to him that he may not see how severe a crime it is in God’s sight. Though he may not appreciate in the moment your “preaching” to him, it is imperative that he have this information. You are showing him that truth-telling is not merely your standard, but God’s.
Work to expose lies
I’ll admit it – I’m a lazy parent. If two kids come to the living room screaming at one another because one threw a hairbrush at the other, my general tendency is to say, “Okay, okay! Just hug each other, both of you say you’re sorry, and hold down the noise.”
That is very lazy parenting. I am working hard to avoid such sloth.
After all, a crime has been committed. A hairbrush has been utilized as an injurious weapon. These kids need justice, and they are coming to their earthly judge for help. Instead of being lazy, parents need to set up the court.
If one kid says, “She threw a hairbrush at me,” and the other kid says, “No I didn’t!” then somebody is lying. It is up to Judge Parent to figure out who is lying and who is not. In my house, with five kids, there is usually always a witness! But even if no witness is available, most of the time anyway, with a few creative questions using adult cleverness, the truth can be uncovered.
There may also be additional complications that need to be uncovered. For example, you might find out that the reason child A threw the hairbrush at child B is because child B was doing summersaults off the couch onto child A’s back. Whatever the truth is, the truth needs to be fully recovered, inasmuch as it is possible. Only then will you and both children feel that justice is fairly served.
When a parent seriously works to uncover the truth (and refuses to be lazy) in a given situation, that act alone will teach kids how important truth is. The kid will implicitly learn, “Wow, my mom / dad really is concerned with how things actually happened. My parent wants the truth and will not stop until he / she gets it!” Remember, more is caught than taught. The more you love truth, hopefully, the more they will.
Punish lying more severely than most other bad behavior
Many times after a child is caught lying, the conversation proceeds like this:
Parent, “So you were lying. You did throw the hairbrush at your brother. Right?”
Kid, “Okay, okay, yes, I did it. But he wouldn’t stop doing summersaults on me. Now I am going to get punished for throwing a hairbrush, and it wasn’t even my fault!”
Notice how the kid missed something? The truth has been uncovered and her lie has been exposed, but now she is only concerned with being punished for the original crime. This is the pathetic pattern of depravity. The poor kid is yet to realize that the lie she told to her parent was a much, much worse crime than throwing the hairbrush at her brother.
In that situation, the parent should say to the two children, “Look, the two of you have had a little spout that got out of hand. Little Brother should have stopped with the annoying summersaults, and Big Sister should have handled the situation appropriately, not by the violent use of a hairbrush. So, I want you both to apologize to each other and make sure you show more respect in the future. Furthermore, since you are both at fault, you will both be punished. You both loose your TV privileges for the night.”
Then the parent should look at the lying child and say, “And now I need to address the lie you told, which is a separate, more severe problem. Because you lied and attempted to cover up your actions, you will be grounded for a week. No playing outside after school for a week.”
When the kid flips out, say very clearly, “If you had not lied, but just told me the truth, all you would have lost was TV privileges for a night. But since you lied, which is much worse, I have to punish you more severely.”
Of course, the particular punishments will vary depending on your punishment plan and parenting style, but the point is, lying usually gets the worse punishment.
Obviously, there may be certain times when this principle does not hold. For example, if a child is caught viewing pornography, and tries to get out of trouble by lying, then the viewing of pornography should be punished more severely than the lying. But in the basic, day-to-situations, like the notorious Hairbrush Incident, parents should punish the lying more severely.
It is also a good idea to say things like this to a lying child: “I want you to know that I can usually tell if you are lying, and I will always do my best to research what you tell me to see if it is true or false. I am not going to let you get away with it. You are much, much better off just telling me the truth. Lying will always be punished.” Speeders usually slow down where they know the police are serious.
I’ve noticed that kids actually respond well to this type of confrontation. It tells them that you, as the parent, actually care about them. They will see that you refuse to be lazy and just let things go. And, even though they may feel some frustration (since lying is not a tool that can effectively be used against you), they might actually feel a sense of relief. All things being equal, it is much easier for people to live in an atmosphere of truth and much harder to live in an atmosphere of lies.
Show grace and point to the Savior of liars
Finally, when our kids lie and prove they are not perfect – much to our chagrin – let us remember that we are liars too. I would be hard pressed to believe you never spoke a false word to your parents growing up. I certainly did, and I admit it to my shame. It is good for us to remember those feelings of desperately wanting to cover up our misbehavior, and express real sympathy for our lying children.
Since we are in the same boat of depravity right along with our kids, grace is very important. Perhaps after the Hairbrush Incident has ended, maybe after the forth day of grounding, the parent might say to the kid, “You know lying is horrible and will always be punished. But since you have not attempted to lie (as far as I can tell) since the Hairbrush Incident, I am going to release you from the rest of your grounding. Please don’t lie anymore.”
Then, before the kid runs out the door to play, you might give her a big hug and say, “I love you, and no matter how tough it may be, you can always tell me the truth.”
But don’t let this moment of grace pass without pointing to Jesus. This is a perfect moment to witness to your kid, saying something like, “When you lied, you broke one of God’s Ten Commandments. I have done the same thing before. This means you and I are both guilty sinners who deserve God’s condemnation. But this is exactly why Jesus died for us. If we weren’t bad people who do bad things, we would not need a Savior. But we are bad people who do bad things, and your lie proves it. Thankfully, through Christ’s death and resurrection, he forgives us of our sins, if we ask him. We should never lie, but when we do, he graciously forgives us and restores us.”
These are just a few general principles to help guide parents when we discover our kids are liars. Each situation may call for variations of the principles, and wise parents will be able to adapt them to a variety of circumstances. And for those parents who are still convinced your kids are perfect, I’m not going to lie to you, they’re not.