I don't know what to do about my 8-year-old daughter, who lies to me regularly about little things, like telling me she has showered when she hasn't. She knows she's going to get caught, but lies anyway. What should I do to get her to tell the truth?
In truth (pun intended), children live very much in the moment. They are largely motivated by either avoiding pain or experiencing pleasure. This is why telling kids that too much sugar will give them cavities has little impact on their decision to swipe that handful of brownies; the enjoyment of sweets far outweighs any later costs, like someday having to succumb to the dentist's drill.
Here are some tips for helping your daughter speak more truthfully:
• Consider the payoff. What is your daughter getting when she tells a lie? It may be that she is avoiding the drudgery of boring tasks; this is often the case with kids who pretend they have showered or brushed their teeth when in fact they have created elaborate schemes to avoid doing so, like wetting the toothbrush or running the shower without getting into it.
• Avoid shaming and blaming. Putting a child on the defensive by "catching" her in a lie will not further your cause in any way; in fact, it may simply teach her to become a better liar. Avoid the temptation to step into lawyer-mode to prove to your daughter that she's being dishonest.
• Speak from your heart. "Sweetheart, I know I sometimes get upset, and it may be hard to tell me what's really going on because you might be afraid of how I'll react. But it matters to me that we're close, and when I think you may not be saying something true, it affects the trust we share."
• Tell the truth. If your daughter routinely sees you telling lies, it will be hard to insist that she speak honestly. 'Nuff said.
• Think Big Picture. Ultimately, you're not raising a child; you're raising an adult. While it may be tempting to focus on sending your daughter to school fresh and clean, it is far more important to help her learn that being dishonest is not a quality consistent with being the wonderful person she is meant to be.
• Make it safe to speak openly. Invite your daughter to share what is behind some of her choices, assuring her that you won't get mad or deliver lectures or ultimatums. Be that the calm, confident captain of the ship that I talk about, focusing on solving the problem rather than speaking from your own anger or hurt.
You: "Honey, I'm wondering if you took your shower."
Child: "I did! Didn't you hear it running?"
You: (Not taking the bait) "Yes, I did. But I'm also noticing that your hair is dry, and I know how much you complained about it..."
Child: "I showered! I just didn't feel like washing my hair!"
You: "I understand. And I wonder if you ever wish you could skip your shower without getting in trouble."
Child: "Some of my friends only have to shower every two days. You make me shower every day. I don't like to."
You: "I guess it seems unfair that they get to do something that you don't..."
Child: "You make me do so many things that I don't like doing, Mom. I don't get that dirty every day."
You: "It's frustrating when there are things I want you to do that you think are kind of dumb..."
Child: (softening) "Yeah... I don't like it... I don't like getting out of the shower and feeling wet and cold..."
The goal here is to establish yourself as safe enough in your daughter's eyes to tell you her truth. Once she feels heard and understood, you will stand a much better chance of coming up with options with her to address her feelings and your concerns that will not require you to police her. Perhaps she'll take a sponge bath every other day; or you may find she does better with showering in the morning.
Regardless of the specifics, your goal here is to help your daughter know that she can speak truthfully with you. Believe me -- as important as it is to you right now that she tell the truth, it will be exponentially more valuable to establish yourself as a safe confidante as she heads into her teen years.
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