Yes. It is we, the parents, who teach them to lie. And this is how:
Caption: “I didn’t do it!”
Jane: Ender? Did you poop your pants?
Jane: Oh, Jeezus, Ender, how could you? I just asked you if you needed to go 10 minutes ago. Fucking hell, and now I have to change your poopy bum, and it is so disgusting, yuck…
What happens next time?
Jane: Ender? Did you make a poop?
Jane: Of course you did! Why are you lying to me?
We ask a question. We get the truthful answer. We don’t like what we hear. We freak. We repeat this cycle. The result: we teach the child to lie.
And it’s so simple. Do this instead:
Jane: Ender? Did you poop your pants?
Jane: Let’s go clean your bum. Tell mama next time as soon as you feel you need to go, ok?
Better yet, don’t ask questions to which you know the answer, right? Ya’ know he pooped. Ya’ can smell it. Just say this:
Jane: Let’s go clean your bum, dude, and then we can go back to playing.
I chose the toilet training example because it’s almost invariably the topic of a new parent’s first “My child has started to lie! What do I do?” And we just don’t realize that we’ve been coaching them to lie to us by how we react to the truth.
Children—all people—lie to protect themselves. They lie because they learn that their parents—others around them—do not actually want to hear the truth. They lie because we teach them to.
You do not “teach” a child to be truthful by talking about how important it is to tell the truth.
Instead, you teach them to lie by not accepting the truth when they tell it to you. So. If you want the truth? Don’t teach them to lie. Foster an environment and a relationship, in which saying “I pooped my pants,” “I broke the lamp,” “I lost my mittens,” “I don’t like this supper” is okay and doesn’t lead to a parental shit storm.
Cinder: Mom! I think I broke the X-box! Help!
Music to my ears.
Flora: I’m sorry, Mom, but I just don’t like this soup.
Ender: Mama: I pooped my pants!
That’s what I want to hear.
This soap box moment was originally brought to you on November 25, 2012 because I very much needed a reminder not to teach my children to lie. I was reminded of it when I found myself in a fascinating conversation this week in which I found myself arguing that spouses-lovers spend their entire relationships teaching their spouses-lovers to lie–ever more intricately–and then are outraged when those lies are suddenly uncovered… I might tell you about it sometime. If you bribe me with chocolate, wine and Facebook shares. Wink.
P.S. I get a massive ego stroke this week at Tao of Poop, as Rachel celebrates her daughter’s bedhead and references that infamous The AP Hair Style: I don’t brush my children’s hair. It’s a massive philosophical thing. Really post. And I’ve got to point you to the awesome Katia’s edgy pop culture take on body image, Ladies Meet Your New Body Image Protection Squad: J-Law, Britney and Miranda at MamaPop.com (Katia usually blogs at I Am The Milk; pay her a visit there).
P.P.S. While I’m sending you places, here’s a new-to-me blog, Not that you asked but… that I think I might like. So you might like. I’m sending you to a body image (sort of) post. For a reason, which will be revealed later, and has nothing to do with teaching lovers or children to lie.
P.P.P.S. I knew what he was doing to that wall. It’s family-centred living. OK, now, for real, Jane out.
Good point! You’re such a smarty, Jane.
Insufferably so, no? I guess that’s why I like you. Jenn’s latest post, friends, is Brilliant Business Plan, just add cats.
This is so insightful. We should be able to accept everyone’s truth, even if it isn’t something pleasant to us. Very important post! 🙂
Thank you :). Jessica’s latest post, my Northern readers, will resonate with you: Cold Killers.
I love this post! This line: “We’ve been coaching them to lie to us by how we react to the truth.” Yes. I want my husband to read this. BTW, I was a HUGE liar when I was little. Got in trouble for it endlessly. I also had a big imagination! And…happy to stroke you’re ego b/c you are RIGHT!
That’s sort of another post: the difference between lying and storytelling. I always want to tell a BETTER story, you know? So I understand that impulse… and also, I discern it in others when they indulge in it. But then, I parse lies for a living. Hey, friends, if you’re reading through the comments and you didn’t click through on Rachel’s bedhead post, here’s your chance: Developing a Child’s Sense of Self… Or Celebrating Bedhead.
You should start writing parenting books, my infinitely wise friend. And I am dead serious. So true, so common sense yet we always relapse. Good to get this smart, succinct reminder. Love you, Jane (and I’ll buy your book). Thank you so much for the shout out.
The first line of my parenting book would be, no child should be raised by any book. 😛 And I already gave you a shout out above, so how do I reward this excess of flattery? One of my favourite recent posts by Katia is The day I found out I’m a superhero. Have a gander.
This is great. I know I do this, and need to be better about not reacting negatively when my kids tell me the truth. I agree with Katia, you should write a book, Nothing By the Book Lady 🙂
Flattering this Gemini will get you everything. Or at least firm instructions to all reading this to check out Left Brain Buddha’s latest post, In praise of simple days.
Mine is potty training for poop right now. Thank you for this. We’ve had multiple discussions about telling him that poop goes in the potty vs. asking if he pooped. Asking why he pooped. That leads to lying and you’re SO right. Love this. xo
Awesome. Finding Ninee explores cheating in her latest post, btw, Is it ever okay to cheat?. It’s an interesting read. With a soundtrack, to boot…
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You’re right about the spouse thing (I know from horrifying examples that I will not share here because that would be way much comment!) So… it should stand to reason that children often act like small humans and thus the same problems can arise.
Children.. acting like humans! What will come next? Dogs and cats marrying? 😉
I have to make a conscious effort to not ask questions I already know the answer to because in the end I know that I will be very unhappy when the child lies to me. Now I make statements. Took me 8 years to figure that out.
This hits home right about now. My little guy has been lying as if it’s a sport, and attempts to break up the game often take the form you’ve given here. But you go a step further that I’m going to try: don’t even ask the question. That’d shut the game down pretty quick, because the lying game is inherently interrogative isn’t it? Thanks for the revelation!
“It takes two.” Always.
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I’ve missed your wisdom, my friend. Too true. Really.
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