At some point in our lives as parents, our children will lie to us about something. Why do they do this? I found myself pondering this when my kids were entering the teenage years. As a parent coach, I have found that numerous parents I work with are also asking themselves this question. Over the years of my own parenting journey and my extensive coaching certification program and practice, I have come to understand much more about the art of lying.
Lying occurs because of a few obstacles – obstacles that are preventing the truth. Our children want to be heard. All children need to feel they have an opportunity to use their voice and share their thoughts and feelings about whatever is important to them. When we offer our children the opportunity to speak their mind, we enable a depth of connection and contact that otherwise might not have existed. When they share their thoughts about technology usage, going out somewhere or whatever is important to them at that moment, and, as a parent, we fully listen and try to understand their perspective with compassion and mindfulness, it can make an enormous difference. That does not mean that we accept or agree with their view, but rather that we do our best to understand where they are coming from. When we do this, we can meet them where they are. In more recent years, listening intently to my children’s opinions and views have allowed me to tailor my responses to meet them where they are. Not only has this enabled them to feel empowered and part of the conversation, but it has also prevented lying.
However, I am not implying that we should say yes to our children’s requests in order to prevent them from lying, but rather, I am focusing on empowering our children to calmly use their voice, and for us, as parents, to hear it. When we do this, we make the best decision with all the necessary information from our perspective and theirs.
Additionally, another obstacle that can contribute to lying is when children feel that they will get in trouble because of whatever it is that they want to do. When they don’t have a voice that is being heard and feel like they lack a deep connection with their parents, they try to avoid consequences. It becomes easier to lie than risk getting in trouble. Consequences are a big piece of the puzzle in the disconnection between parent and child.
Consequences can truly make a child proficient in the art of lying. I know this from my own experiences. Every action that was concerning for me when my kids were young had a consequence, one that I enforced. When kids are always faced with consequences for actions that merit no voice for themselves, they become very clever at finding a way to do what they want in their life, which only propels lying. However, when concerning behaviors are used as teaching tools and opportunities for sharing, communicating, and learning, there is not as much desire for a child to lie, as they are not in need of avoiding punishment.
As lying continued, I learned that punishment was not effective. My children were not learning anything except how to avoid punishment by lying and staying clear of me. Through my own growth as a parent, I learned that the best thing for me to do was focus on the connection, allow for open communication and not focus on punishment. When I was able to let go of the punishment part, my relationship with my children grew and the lying diminished. My children began to share their life with me without fear of judgment and discipline. I worked hard to stay neutral, listen, and ask questions that helped them process their own choices and decisions. This change contributed to creating more peace and harmony in my family.
Therefore, in order to keep this unfortunate art form from taking over, I recommend opening communication with your children, giving them a voice that is actually heard, empowering them to be part of the discussion, and using the conversation and openness as a means to teach rather than punish. This is a beautiful opportunity to create more connection in your parent-child relationship.
This becomes increasingly important as children get further into the teenage years. Children are faced with so many choices, pressures, and opportunities in their teenage years. Their brains are still developing. Their frontal lobes, the logical part of the brain is not fully developed until at least 25. Meanwhile, they are navigating a social life, social media, academics, sports, pressures, relationships, and their family. Wow, that sounds like a lot, right? Thus, it is incredibly important to not lose connection with them during this challenging time.
Daniel J. Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and executive director of the Mindsight Institute, states that, “honoring the important and necessary changes in the adolescent mind and brain rather than disrespecting them is crucial for both teens and their parents. Adolescence is not a period of being ‘crazy’ or ‘immature.’ It is an essential time of emotional intensity, social engagement, and creativity.” Therefore, we must build our connection through active listening, honoring our child’s voice, and transforming punishment into educational moments.
Raising children, and teens in particular, is not an easy task. There isn’t a handbook for each unique child in front of you. You must create your own handbook by getting to know your child’s needs, desires, interests, and challenges. This is how we show up to support the actual child that we have, not the one we think we have. Many parents that I work with around the world are focusing on connecting deeply with their children, emphasizing the open communication as opposed to fear of consequence. They have expressed great success in using these tools to improve their connection with their child. If you would like to discuss this, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And by all means, be sure to take good care of yourself. Your self-care needs to be a top priority, filling your energy tank so you can be more present for all the moments above.