We all get frustrated when our kids just flat-out lie to us, right? It happens with all kids, and it makes most parents crazy-mad.
And it’s not just about the trust, or the relationships. We’re worried because we want them to grow into the kind of adults who are trustworthy, and have integrity.
I recently watched an adult exhibit gross negligence, and then lie to me about it straight to my face. Yup. THAT’s what we parents are most afraid will happen every time we “catch” our kids in a lie.
But here’s the thing. Sometimes we parents are actually contributing to our kids’ lying. Unintentionally, of course. Think it’s crazy talk? Read on.
The Tree and the Mirror
My carpool buddy drove into my driveway a little late, complaining about a construction project near my house. A flatbed delivery truck had blocked the road, broken branches off a tree, and was generally interfering with her morning flow. I didn’t think much of it. After all, while it’s annoying to live near a construction zone, you sorta get used to it.
But as I started heading up the street to walk my dog a few minutes later, I saw a worker kicking something in the street. He appeared to be moving it to the side of the road, and as I walked closer, I heard the crinkly clatter of what could only be broken glass. Still closer, I noticed that he was pushing a broken tree branch to the side, trying to move it out of the street, as well.
Now I’m no detective, but it was pretty clear to me what had happened.
The worker returned to kicking the glass against the curb, trying to “sweep it under the rug,” rather than take responsibility for his mistake.
So I kindly walked up to him and said, “it looks like some glass is broken, here. Could you please pick it up? There are children in the neighborhood.” And he looked at me, straight in the face, and said, “I don’t know where it came from.”
I looked at him for a moment, head tilted, in a bit of wonderment. I smiled. I spoke politely.
“I think we both know that glass you’re kicking came from a mirror that broke when you ran into that tree limb. Which my friend saw you do as you were coming down the street.”
He countered, dismissively, that he didn’t know what I was talking about. He continued to push on the tree limb that was now mangled, reaching into the road.
Calmly, I asked him, once again, to clean up the mess, then I walked across the street and typed the number of the construction site manager into my phone, determined to report the incident after my walk.
Parents Encourage Kids to Lie
On my walk, all I could really think about was how this man had probably never learned to take responsibility for his mistakes. It’s sad, isn’t it, when an adult doesn’t own up to mistakes? We see it in the media all the time, and it’s always so disappointing.
Bless his heart. He probably never learned how.
And while there are a lot of pieces to this complex conversation about kids’ lying, truth telling, defensive denial, etc., there’s one piece that became clear: as parents, we contribute to our kids’ lying by not “allowing” them to make mistakes.
We don’t really mean to, but we often blame, shame, or embarrass our kids when they make simple mistakes, like when they break something, or bump into something, or don’t put something away.
Our words may say nothing, but the tone we use, the facial expressions, the tilt of our heads, the hands on our hips – they speak volumes.
Is it Wrong to Make a Mistake?
I like to draw the distinction between making a mistake and being wrong for it. Mistakes are going to happen – that’s life. But do we have to feel “bad” or “wrong” every time we make a simple mistake? When we hold our kids to an impossible standard, they learn to deflect and deny. When we discourage them from taking responsibility for all of their actions for fear of being “wrong,” they learn to blame and point fingers.
We need to teach our kids that mistakes are a normal part of life, to own up to simple mistakes without huge repercussions or drama. That’s how we’ll teach them to take responsibility – in all aspects of their lives.
It’s simpler than you think: make mistakes matter-of-fact. It’s not about ignoring every mistake, pretending they don’t exist (although chances are, you could probably let a few more mistakes slide than you do. Most of us could!).
Really, though, it’s about teaching your kids to make mistakes without feeling wrong for them.
If you want to teach a child to deny culpability at all costs – if you want your child to grow into the kind of adult who tries to hide the glass, hide the tree limb, and pretend like nothing had happened – keep making it wrong to make a mistake.
But if you want to raise a child who takes responsibility, even for mistakes, start making some mistakes yourself and then cut yourself some slack. Tell your kids about your mistakes with laughter, instead of calling yourself names.
Who knows? Your kids may be amazed to discover you’re human. More importantly, they’ll learn to give themselves permission to be human, too!
P.S. When I returned from my walk, the glass was cleaned up and the limb was off the tree. He was motivated by the fear of getting caught. Let’s raise kids who are motivated by doing the right thing in the first place, shall we?!
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