Kids are bound to lie and parents are bound to catch them, and then punish or lecture them. Unfortunately, this can spiral into a contentious cat-and-mouse game, as kids become more crafty and parents become more angry. In our work with parents, we have seen that treating lying with grace and placing a high value on truth-telling, powerfully opens children’s hearts to the Holy Spirit’s conviction about lying and honesty. Here are four ways to make that practical:
- Acknowledge the gift-gone-awry.
If you want to build bridges of trust with a child who struggles with lying, it helps to acknowledge he just might be using a few good “gifts gone awry” to do it… like creativity, confidence, good memory, and even a desire to keep the peace. Our son Noah struggled for a little while with truth-telling. He was definitely a “get along with everyone” kind of kid that didn’t want to disappoint us. We named the good trait and then continued, “this is not the most helpful way we’ve seen you use it, however. It’s important that we keep a close, trust-based relationship. What are your ideas about that?”
- Affirm truth-telling.
When you know your child might be tempted to lie, set them up to tell the truth. Instead of asking “Did you brush your teeth?” say, “Let’s quick check your toothbrush before you leave. Do you think I’ll find it wet or dry?” Then, when the child says, “It’s still dry.” You can respond by affirming the true answer. “You could have lied about that but you didn’t. When you tell the truth like this it helps me trust you more. Thanks! I really appreciate that.”
Parents can also help children learn to value honesty as they “catch” them telling the truth without prompting. Kids tell the truth much more often than they lie. Especially for younger kids, listen to a child tell a story about her day, or ask a child his favorite food or color or vacation. When you hear truth you have a chance to affirm, “You’re telling the truth, aren’t you? That feels good, doesn’t it?”
- Value honesty in anger.
A great opportunity to affirm truth-telling is when kids are angry and spouting off. Parents can affirm their honesty. “You are really ticked off about this! I think it would be best to talk about it when you’re calmer but I really appreciate how honest with me you were just now. Even if it’s hard to hear, that honesty is really important to me.” This sends strong messages to your child – your honesty is more important to me than your delivery; heart connection is more important than outward behavior.
- Teach about God’s conviction.
Lying is a valuable opportunity to help your kids learn to tune into that subtle, unsettled feeling of God-given conviction, which truly is the best “consequence” to teach your children integrity. At a relaxed time, talk with your kids about that knot in their stomach they might experience when they lie or do something else that is hurtful. Help them view this as a good thing, a sign of maturity, even a gift. It’s God’s protection of their life and relationships. The Holy Spirit guides us into truth, and that truth — including the truth about our sin — sets us free (John 16:13, John 8:32). Share an example of a time you lied or were deceitful, how you felt God’s conviction, what you did to make it right, and how you felt afterward.
We gently helped our son Noah learn to tune into that “Holy Spirit knot” in his stomach. He began to come to us (sometimes in tears), “Mom, Dad… I lied again.” This gave us a rich opportunity to affirm his tender conscience and honesty, and extend forgiveness. It was the beginning of his growth to be the meticulously honest young man he is today.
When we respond to our children in this way, we not only create the closeness that is fertile soil for honesty, but we draw our kids toward the gracious, come-alongside role of the Holy Spirit in their lives. And what can be better than that?!
This week’s article is adapted from the appendix of our book Discipline That Connects With Your Child’s Heart. Order your copy today!
Frustrated by constant discipline challenges? Take 15 minutes to read our free ebook 4 Messages All Children Long to Hear: A Discipline That Connects Overview.