"My stepdaughter looked right at me and lied!"
Let's just put this out there...Most kids have gone through a phase of telling lies. As a parent you might panic, but hang tight and keep reading for strategies on dealing with this!
The first question most parents have when this happens is "Why would she lie?" We talk to our kids about the importance of being honest. We remind them that we want to be able to trust them, we even give them multiple chances to tell the truth, yet you find yourself in this situation... again.
Let's look at the "WHY" first...
Most kids lie for one of 3 reasons:
1. To avoid punishment
2. To get your attention
3. To build up their self-esteem (bragging about yourself to fit in or impress someone else)
If you're in a stepfamily situation it's possible the stepchild may blame the stepparent's birth kids for misbehavior in order to gain favor with the stepparent. If she is innocent and the birth kids are guilty, then she looks like the better behaved child.
What should parents do?
1. Figure out the "why"
Avoiding punishment... We're all guilty of "little white lies" if we're being totally honest (and isn't that what this blog is about?). As role models we may not always be on our best behavior and our kids are paying attention. We might:
1. Tell a friend we're busy when in reality we just don't want to go to their event
2. Ask our kids to tell someone we aren't home when they answer the phone
3. Stretch the truth about how fast we were going when pulled over for a speeding ticket
In stepfamilies, we may see some incomplete truths being shared between ex-spouses in order to either keep the peace or because of wanting to establish power over the other parent.
Getting Attention (reason 2)... I have explained to parents even though we may think we are giving our kids enough attention, we need to really examine what that looks like from the child's perspective. Do we only half listen to our child while we're scrolling on our phone or watching our show? Kids will misbehave if they know that it will get them your undivided attention. After all, negative attention is better than none at all.
Self-esteem building is common for individuals who are uncertain about their role in a social group (that includes family) or if they feel inadequate in comparison to others. Kids may share they read a book well over their reading level to impress a parent or teacher. They may go along with the story others are telling so they fit in or brag about a doing something well beyond their abilities....it's all about feeling like they belong.
2. Focus on the behavior instead of the child
If a child gets caught in a lie and the messaging is "you're an awful person for lying" that "awful person" messaging will stick with them for years to come. Instead we want to focus on the choices of behaviors. Use this as a learning tool for them to discover a way to rectify the situation, make amends, and yet hold their self-messaging in tact.
Allow the child the opportunity to come clean. If you know that there is no way a certain thing happened, you can say something like, "I know that isn't how it happened and I would really like to know what really happened." Open the door in a non-accusatory way, stating what you do know for a fact (your sister did NOT open that bag of chips, she can't even reach that cabinet) then follow up with "I think it's time we talk about what really happened."
3. Give them consequences!
When I mention consequences, I'm referring to something related to the behavior in question. If a child lies then she needs to be held accountable for that lie. If a child made a mess then accuses a sibling of doing it, then that child needs to clean the mess then apologize to the accused sibling. Remind her she will now have to earn your trust back and it will be a slow process.
4. Have a family discussion... I use the word "discussion" instead of lecture because I believe kids should be involved in helping make family rules when appropriate. This is not meant to point out a specific child's behavior, it is a chance for the family to problem solve together. (Check out this FREE pdf "Making Family Rules that Work")
Family meetings don't have to be long and drawn out. Keep it objective and approach it as a team effort. "Honesty is important. Let's figure out what that looks like in our family."
Use the following questions as a guide:
a) What does the word "honesty" mean? (No judgement allowed!) As a family describe what "honesty" looks like to you.
b) Why is honesty important? (other's feelings can be hurt, we lose trust in each other)
c) What should happen when someone in our family lies? As a team put together a clear list of consequences that are tied directly to the behavior of lying. (losing privileges, apologizing, earning back trust and how that will happen).
**Making up family rules and consequences together also makes it easier for parents to hold the kids accountable for their behavior. "YOU chose the behavior, YOU chose the consequence. You knew what would happen."
It is imperative that both parents in the home are on the same page on this issue or the kids will play one against the other. Stepfamilies that have shared custody, I know the rules may be different in the other parent's home and you have no control over that. What is important is you are clear in your messaging "When you walk in that door you will follow the family rules we have."
NO matter what the living situation, consistent messaging is the key to success in this and any discipline issue.
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Remember to check out this FREE pdf "Making Family Rules that Work"