What to Do When You Catch Your Child Lying

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29 NIV

“I don’t have them,” she repeated.

“Leave your sister alone!” our parents echoed from up the stairs.

Decades later I learned the shirts I’d been looking for were underneath my little sister and her mattress the entire time.

“Why didn’t you just ask?” I wondered out loud. It wasn’t the borrowing that aggravated me, but the lying about it afterwards.

Grown adults are easily tempted to be dishonest by fear, and kids are no different. I retell this story to my daughters when I catch them in a lie, not to break the seriousness of the situation, but to illustrate the normality with which everyone has to deal with lying and its consequences.

When we catch our kids lying, there a few things we can do to break the chain reaction of fear and dishonesty. Free them up to embrace the truth, even when consequences are sure to follow.

1. T.H.I.N.K.
Paul wrote to the Ephesians, encouraging them to be mindful of their words. The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Guide says Greek, Jewish, and Middle Eastern sages all emphasized wise, appropriate, truthful, and gracious speech. The concept was not foreign to them. The living Word of God also encourages us to be mindful of our words. “Christians not only stop saying unwholesome things; they also begin to say things that help build others up.” (NIV Study Bible Notes).

“…be mindful of our words.”
The acronym T.H.I.N.K. is posted near the daily routine in our house, written on the refrigerator dry erase board, and now repeated when a tinge of tween attitude creeps into my kids’ speech.

T. Is it True?
H. Is it Helpful?
I. Is it Inspiring?
N. Is it Necessary?
K. Is it Kind?

A lie isn’t any of these things. Try having them recite or answer these questions the next time they’re caught red-handed.

2. Sit down with them.
Daily devotions are an excellent way to prepare and talk to our kids about a lot of things, lying included. Setting aside a time each day to share a chair with them and soak up God’s Word is a healthy habit that will undoubtedly begin to address issues our kids are going through. The power of God’s living Word and the love He has for us can be experienced up close and personally by our children if we encourage the habit of reading it.

“Talking things out with our kids daily helps them learn to unload in a safe place…”
The Bible says, “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their cry.” (Psalm 24:15 NIV) He knows what we’re up against, and He cares for our kids more than we ever could. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in Spirit.” (Psalm 34:18 NIV) Though what our kids might be perplexed by may not seem insurmountable to us, God knows it’s life-sized to them.

Lying, as other types of behavior, can signal an internal struggle. Talking things out with our kids daily helps them learn to unload in a safe place without being defensive. When we make an effort to learn more about their day as part of our routine, they may be more open to unloading the why behind their lie.

3. Make space to cool off.
On any given day, one can drive by our house and see my children running laps around our property. Though we come from a family of distance runners, it’s not their love of the sport that has motivated their athleticism. Chances are they’re cooling off (and so am I).

It’s a strategy my husband and I came up. We created a handful of family rules that we all agree on and attached consequences that go along with breaking them. Running laps is my favorite go-to for a couple of reasons.

  1. It’s scientific fact that aerobic physical exercise lightens our mood.
  2. It gives them time to think about what they did.

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SOURCE: Crosswalk, Meg Bucher