I got a lot of comments for my post a few weeks ago on disciplining children, so I wrote this installment today after my four-year-old nephew beaned my daughter in the head with a pine cone. I was ready to laugh it off and move on. But when confronted, my nephew lied about who threw it. A moment later, he lied again and said that his Mommy had said it was okay to throw things. The well-aimed pine cone I could forgive, but the lies warranted some kind of response. I sent him to sit in the corner of the playground for an undefined length of time that turned out to be about 10 minutes. I let him re-join us after he apologized to my daughter and explained to me why he was being punished. He cited the pine cone but not the lying for his punishment, which is indicative of how difficult it can be to teach this important lesson in truth-telling to a little kid.
We all know that kids do stuff that results in something being spilt, broken, or getting dirty. It is frustrating but expected, and in my book a mild scolding is all that is warranted. But most all kids in the 3 to 5 year old range will at some time or another try out a lie or two to escape the scolding that they know is coming. They blame someone else or make up some other little lie rather than face up to the truth. Lying—even if it is deployed to cover up a small crime—deserves a some kind of a punishment in my book. However in my daily life as a parent, I find myself doling out a scolding for the toy left in the rain but forget to punish the thing that is really a crime: lying about who left it there.
Another fine example: years ago my oldest son–who has always been a slow eater with a small appetite– claimed to have a tummy ache from eating half a bowl of oatmeal. I told him that I took his word for it that he was sick and to put his bowl in the sink. Though I couldn’t prove it, I suspected he was faking and I tried to smoke him out. So as he hauled his aching belly to his room to recuperate, I told my two other kids that I was taking them on a surprise outing to the waterpark (this occurred in Jakarta and the waterpark was near our house and very cheap). Before the car could leave the driveway, my sick son experienced a miraculous recovery. He, of course, admitted to the lie. I sent him back to his room to think it over and took the other two to the waterpark even though the trip would have been much more fun with all three kids. I determined that the best way to get him to stop faking an illness was to make it costly to get caught.
The bottom line here is that while you may be annoyed as hell at your kid’s antics, most of it is just a kid being a kid. But if there is to be no tolerance for lying to Mom and Dad, then it is up to you to make that clear. This is about trust between parent and child. And you need your kids to develop into habitual truth-tellers before they enter the teenage years and get into the type of trouble that cannot be fixed with a simple fib.