Inside: Discover the MAGIC word to make it easy for your children to tell you the truth + a dead funny way to explain the consequences of lying.
My son got off the school bus with his bag clutched awkwardly in front of him. I should’ve guessed he was hiding something.
The next day I found a pair of jeans scrunched up in the corner of his room. I shook them out and discovered holes in both knees.
When I asked him about it, he said, “So-and-so dragged me across the schoolyard.”
I was all set to give him a hug. But the fidgeting, the hand over the mouth, and the lack of eye contact told me a different story.
He was LYING.
How To Raise A Liar
I was raised in an authoritarian household. We did as we were told, no questions, no arguments. Mistakes were punished harshly. And lies were punished equally harshly.
My response? I weighed up the odds. LIE at every turn.
When I was about my son’s age, seven maybe eight, I moved all the furniture in our living room, to cover up an ink stain on a cream carpet. And I do mean ALL the furniture: rug, coffee table, chairs … I even had to sit with my back hard up against the sofa to inch it slowly across the floor. All to avoid punishment for an accident.
I got away with it. Can you believe it?
So I lied about eating the last piece of chocolate cake. I lied about taking my mother’s sparkly horse brooch. I lied about everything.
Eventually, my parents acted like they didn’t believe a word I said. Who could blame them?
By the time I was a teenager their opinion of me seemed fixed. And when I looked at myself in the mirror, I saw a LIAR, too. I smoked and drank and climbed out of my bedroom window in the middle of the night to sneak into nightclubs.
Every parent’s nightmare.
I hope my child isn’t doing any of those things behind my back when he’s 14. But if he is, I’d rather know about it. Wouldn’t YOU?
What are WE doing wrong?
What’s your parenting style? Authoritarian or permissive, or somewhere in between?
Our son gets a say in everything he does, and we favour discussion over punishment.
But he still started to lie. And, recently, he’s been lying more often. When we asked him WHY he lies, he said it’s because we “lose it” whenever he does something wrong.
That got my attention. He feels just like my seven-year-old self did.
Although we don’t smack him, or ground him, or send him to bed without any supper, our harsh criticism affects him in just the same way.
It’s a punishment he’d do anything to avoid.
I can already picture him standing in a nightclub feeling lost and small and in over his head. Just like I did.
The lying’s got to end NOW before it’s too late.
To stop our children lying, we need answers to the following two questions:
- How can we show them the natural consequences of lying, without it feeling like a lecture?
- How do we make them feel safe enough to own up to accidents, mistakes, and failures?
1. Show Them What Happens to Little Liars
If you want a fun but effective way to teach your children what happens if they lie, “Matilda: Who Told Lies and was Burned to Death” by Hilaire Belloc is the story for you.
Hilarious to read and deadly in its conviction, it starts …
“Matilda told such Dreadful Lies,
It made one Gasp and Stretch one’s Eyes”
She calls out the fire brigade when there isn’t a fire, but a few weeks later a real fire breaks out and …
For every time She shouted “Fire!”
They only answered “Little Liar!”
And therefore when her Aunt returned,
Matilda, and the House, were Burned.
If you haven’t already read Belloc’s Cautionary Verses for Children, why ever not?! Who can resist such titles as:
- Jim, Who ran away from his Nurse, and was eaten by a Lion
- Rebecca, Who slammed Doors for Fun and Perished Miserably
- George, Who played with a Dangerous Toy, and suffered a Catastrophe of considerable Dimensions
Anyway, where were we?
Ah yes, Matilda’s story makes it clear why lying’s a BAD idea. Time to find a solution to the second problem.
2. Help them feel safe enough to tell you anything
“How about we come up with a SAFE word?” I asked.
“A magic word that if you say it we have to listen calmly and NOT lose it.”
“Which word?” he asked.
“Hmmmmm, it might be easier if you pick something we’ll remember” (and can say).
“Cheese pizza it is.”
We made a mini poster with some instructions:
- Take a deep breath
- Count to five
- DON’T LOSE IT!
It’s on the fridge where everyone can see it.
Practice makes perfect
I planned to use our safe word within the first week to make it stick, but my son beat me to it.
On day three, he got off the school bus and immediately said, “Cheese pizza!” I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly … one … two … three … four … five.
I ruffled his hair, got down to his level, and said, “Why don’t you tell me ALL about it?”
He pointed at the raggedy holes in the knees of his new trousers. Then came the story of a HAPPY lunchtime spent gleefully sliding across the schoolyard with So-and-so (him again).
Wheeeeeeee! I felt seven again.
“Excellent use of cheese pizza. Thanks for telling me the truth,” I said, giving him a high five and a squeeze.
Over a glass of milk and a biscuit, we sat down and discussed how to fix the rips (extra tough iron-on patches).
Fingers crossed, when he’s older and has something more serious to hide than a pair of holey knees, he’ll still feel able to tell us about it.
And, hopefully, we can work out a way to fix whatever it is. Together.
Make it easy for your kids to tell you the truth … forever
Plan a date with your family to read “Matilda: Who Told Lies and Was Burned to Death” (click link*), discuss the consequences of lying, and choose YOUR magic family safe word.
We’ve had a few ‘cheese pizza’ moments in our house since we came up with the idea. It’s made life easier and less stressful. Hurrah!
If you like the look of our mini fridge poster, grab your FREE copy here. We printed it on cardstock to make it last … forever.
I write about parenting problems and the picture books we used to solve them.
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I’d love to hear which SAFE word your children come up with. Pop it in the comments box at the end, particularly if it makes ‘cheese pizza’ sound sensible!
* “Matilda: Who Told Lies and Was Burned to Death”, copied from Cautionary Tales for Children on Project Gutenberg. Check local copyright laws to print.