We had a young woman living with us for about 9 months. She worked as a care giver for elderly home-bound folks. One evening, after training, she came home visibility upset. “The company wants me to lie to the Alzheimer patients,” she said. It was recommended that when a dementia patient was talking about a certain subject to nod in agreement, listen, not correct, and go along with the conversation. Our house guest was upset by this. She values honesty.
Honesty is an important and godly virtue. But there is wisdom in the recommendation. Why tell a person suffering from memory loss that his or her spouse has died and there is no way that person is coming to visit? Why put the patient through the fresh and great grief, over and over again? Sparing him or her that intense emotional pain is a kindness.
Not all lies are created equal.
We have the little white lie, the grey area fib, story embellishment, the kindness lie, the lies of omission and co-mission, and the tall tale. All are based in an untruth but not all lies are perceived the same way. The lies that are the most problematic are the ones where the liar is trying to make himself look better or keep himself out of trouble. The other types of fabrications don’t seem to cause as big of an uproar.
Because lying is a bit fluid in it’s interpretation, I think it is a good idea to talk with your kids about how your family defines a lie and a liar.
A little kid may tell fantasy type lies, perhaps coming up with a fabrication about his day. This occurs when the child is around 3- to- 4-years of age. Developmentally he has a pretty good command of the language and a blossoming imagination. No sense in calling the child a liar. Instead help him distinguish between reality and fantasy. “That is a great story, Sammy. Tell it to me again so I can write it down then you can draw a picture to go with it!”
The lies that tend to be the pants on fire liar liar type of lies are the acceptance, attention, and avoidance lies.
Acceptance lies are told so that one may fit in better with a peer group. Love is perceived to be conditional. If your child habitually tells this type of lie, be aware. He is not feeling secure in his relationships and the need to belong is not being satisfied. He may need some assistance in learning how to make friends. This child desperately needs to know he is loved, no matter what, by you and by God.
Attention lies are told for…well… the need for attention, love, or even power. This child needs a little more time from you, the parent. He needs reassurance he doesn’t need to tell stories to get people to listen to him. Give this child some element of control over certain parts of his day so he doesn’t feel the need to gain respect by making something up.
Avoidance lies. The lies of omission and co-mission. “I’m not telling. If I do, I’ll get into trouble.” or “I’ll say I did this instead of telling what really happened.” (The great cover-up.) This is the lie to avoid big trouble; which can only be resolved by admission and confession and then forgiveness and reconciliation can follow. Before any of that can happen the child needs to feel that love is not conditional. There may be (should be) natural consequences to follow while keeping love and affection in tact.
Kids are less likely to tell fibs (big or little) and more likely to fess up if they live in a home where not having to be perfect is a-okay. A home where forgiveness reigns and imperfect people can admit mistakes (without fearing ridicule or experiencing withheld affection ) is a place where truth and honesty can flourish.
BE approachable. BE humble. Let your kiddos know you make mistakes too. So when your five-year-old breaks a cup or your sixteen-year-old crashes the car, he will come to you, tell you what happened, and together you can resolve the situation while maintaining your relationship.
Of course lying needs to be addressed but it isn’t the end of the world if your child lies to you. Discovering a lie is the beginning of training your child in the virtue of honesty which results in trust and trust is the thing that builds a strong relationship.
So…what lies did you tell as a kid? Why do you think you told them? How can this help you parent your child?
Keep falsehood and lies far from me.
Wife to Tom
Mom of 4
Co-founder of 1 Corinthians 13 Parenting
Co-author of Raising Little Kids with Big Love and Raising Big Kids with Supernatural Love (soon to be released)
Licensed parent and family educator
Available for parent consulting, and workshops, retreats, and other speaking engagements.