We, as parents of two kids, have always asserted the importance of speaking the truth – to us, to each other, to teachers and all others who they come in contact with. Of course, there have been instances where they have wandered from the truth, sometimes knowingly, sometimes not; sometimes with intent not so noble, and sometimes with a heartwarming reason to lie.
Now, since the elder one has become quite perceptive, she is able to catch us in situations where we are not exactly telling the ‘whole truth, and nothing but the truth’. She has a sly smile, and a ‘gotcha’ look on her face when these subtle shades of lying erupt from her parents’ lips.
Kids lie pretty much for the same reasons we do. Over the years, I have learnt how to handle little untruths from the kids, as soon as I know WHY they lied. Some of the reasons and the way I’ve handled them are here:
1. Lying for convenience: These little instances crop up when you ask questions like “Have you washed your hands?” or “Did you brush before bed?” This, as far as I am concerned, is the easiest to handle. Initially, there would be anguished conversations when I discovered (through Sherlock Holmes methods) that the brush was still dry, and hence the kiddo had lied.
But gradually, I learnt that this sort of lying only required avoidance of the question altogether, till the habit sets in. After all, that’s what we want to accomplish right? We aim to instill a habit that helps them live better. Why get into moral science at the drop of a hat? So I simply started telling them instead of asking them. “Go brush your teeth.” Allowed for much lesser temptation to lie than “Did you…”
2. Lying for attention: This form of lying usually happens when the child is quite young. For instance, when the elder one comes home and starts excitedly telling me about the standing ovation for her recitation in class, the younger one’s brain goes into overdrive, looking for a story. Most of the time, the story he cooks up is an exaggerated version of what really must have happened. The more imaginative they are, further from truth they delve. These stories are influenced by TV, other kids’ antics and of course, their own wishful thinking.
I have learnt, after many instances of trying to teach the virtue of honesty, that kids that young are only expressing their desire to be loved as much, given as much attention, as another child. Of course I do pitch in when the tale becomes really tall, to ask the little one if the mosquito that bit him was indeed “as big as a football”. A sheepish grin and a round of laughter lets him know that he has been caught, but we try and not make a big deal of it. Later, I make it a point to listen to the whole story in its truthful version.
3. Lying for fear of punishment: This is a tricky one, because, the child knows what he or she has done is something that they will be admonished for. And in all probability, some serious thought has gone into the lie. I am most wary of this kind of lie, because this is what frames the child’s affinity to lie. Most times it has to do with lost water bottles or unfinished schoolwork or not too good grades. It may then graduate to larger and more serious lies, to get out of trouble. And I imagine this is the kind of lies almost all parents dread.
As a first time parent with the elder one, I would have sleepless nights when a little lie came to light. Then I would confront the little frightened kid with questions of all kinds that would force her to come up with the truth. Then this would be followed by long lectures and emotional showdowns, which were aimed at making the child, feel bad. But as the child grew up I realized things became much easier if I just created an environment where she could easily speak the truth.
Today, I don’t overreact with a broken pencil box, or a terrible grade. I maintain my temper (not an easy thing to do), and give them a chance to tell me honestly what went wrong. It could be anything from a carefree go at the swing with the school bag that dropped the pencil box, to a bully who tries to snatch their lunch. While they don’t go unpunished for something they’ve done wrong, I make sure I appreciate their honesty. This has helped us arrive at a relationship where they now trust me to tell me the truth when it really matters.
4. Lying to make me feel good: This is another tricky one. This mostly happens when I ask them if they liked the dictionary I gave them for a gift, or when I ask if the spinach is tasty. While the younger one is still blatantly honest to the point of rudeness, the elder one has developed some ‘life skills’ – subtle lies being part of it. The good thing is that they care enough of my feelings for them to lie about it. But the bad this is that, later on in life, this is this very same emotion that will stop them from telling me any serious issues they may be having. As a parent, I need to know when they go through a difficult phase, and so it becomes imperative that I let them know that I am a tough Mom and can handle the truth.
Today, when my daughter wants to tell me that the red dress does not make me look pretty, she can tell it to me without wondering if she will hurt me. If there is no salt in the dal, she will promptly tell me that the dal is not tasty. And I make it a point to thank her for the thumbs up on the problem in hand. So she feels like she is a partner in our problem solving !
Of course, this also means we as parents, have to be able to handle the surprises that come along, the criticism that may be thrown at us, and the debates that may ensue in all decisions in their lives.
Meena Bhatnagar is a mother of two, with a passion for the written word. She dabbles with fiction, a couple of them finding their way into published work, is an avid blogger, and works as a corporate trainer to pay for all the damages. She blogs on parenting, social issues and humorous incidents of her life and on hotel & restaurant reviews and corporate training.