The first time your child lies to you can be a shock to any parent. And while lying is part of growing up, we don’t want to encourage the behavior. Our children need to learn right from wrong, reality from fantasy and truth from untruth.
The Powerful Word of the Month this month is Self Control– and part of self control is taking a moment to think to oneself; Is this safe? Is this fair? Will it work? When it comes to lying, taking the time to think through both good and bad solutions can make the difference between right and wrong.
As parents, we always want our children to choose the safest, most fair and best decisions. When we are with them, we can ensure that it usually happens that way. When we aren’t, we leave it in their hands. This is why so many parents can’t sleep at nights even though we’re all so tired, right?
We must arm our children with some Powerful Questions that can help them to choose right over wrong.
(1) Is it safe? Or, perhaps for some we can teach, “If I lie, is someone likely to get hurt?” Some children will lie to protect someone– whether it’s a sibling or themselves. Sometimes when they are “sworn to secrecy” it’s not a big deal– someone is planning a special birthday party or a big surprise and they need to pretend they know nothing about it. But other times lying about something can be unsafe. Think of the child who was told “not to tell” that a friend was planning to run away, an older sibling was throwing up after each meal or a younger sibling was climbing over a fence near a lake. That’s when this question becomes crucial.
(2) Is it fair? This question certainly requires perspective-taking. Clearly they are going to be more inclined to say something if it’s not fair to them. But what about others? Think of the child who knows that a friend is cheating off another student’s paper in class and both children involved get in trouble. What’s fair? Think of the child who knows that her sports team is doing something underhanded in order to get into the finals. Is this fair? The perspective-taking question that pairs well with this one is; if the tables were turned, would it seem fair to you?
(3) What is my gut telling me to do? When we teach our children to listen to their gut, we are providing them with a very important skill. Our bodies often tell us what our minds our try to disguise. If your child chooses right or wrong, ask them, what made you make that choice? What was your gut telling you to do? What will you do next time?
(4) Will I be able to look my parents/friend/teacher in the eye after I do it? We often know when our children are lying because they can not look us in the eye. Helping your children to understand that answering “no” to this question is a sign that they may be on the verge of making a poor choice.
(5) Could I look at myself in the mirror after I do it? This is really the crux of it, isn’t it? In fact, this is the way my own mother explained the meaning of integrity to me. If our children feel that they could not look at their own selves in the mirror after making this choice (and be proud of what they did), they should take it as a warning. Their conscience is telling them that the impending choice could bring them a feeling of regret or shame.
(6) Would I do this behavior whether someone was watching me or not? I often explain to children that the definition of good character is choosing to do the right thing whether all eyes are on you or all eyes are looking away. If your child can not answer “yes” to both scenarios, then she should probably not be doing it.
(7) Does the end justify the means? This can be a tough concept for children. After all, if they want an A on their book report and get an A on their book report that should be a good thing, right? Yes, accept when that A is achieved through dishonest means such as cheating. Sometimes, children have trouble remembering that parents actually care more about effort and character than about their children being the very best regardless of the cost or means. We must be patient and clear up this confusion so that children will choose “right” over “best” when faced with a question of integrity.
(8) Am I doing this because it is right or because it is popular? We have all heard of peer pressure. This phenomenon can happen on a variety of levels. Think of the child who argues that his friend, who clearly lost the race, crossed the finish line first. In this case, the child succumbs to the rules of friendship over the rules of fairness and integrity. We also see it when the child pretends not to like someone because his friends don’t think the person is cool. Either way, he is letting the popular thing get in the way of doing the right thing. We must teach our children not to allow popularity to cloud their judgment because in the end, the truth usually comes out.
(9) Am I being who I am or am I being who others want me to be? This question coincides with number 6. We want our children to be themselves. When they alter their thoughts, actions, appearance, or choices because others want it that way, they are doing a major disservice to themselves and others. On the one hand, they are not allowing others to get to know the real individual behind the farce. On the other hand, they are building their friendships on a lie. As Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of Women Who Run with the Wolves, wrote, “If you live your life trying to please others, half the people will like you and half won’t. And if you live your life according to your own truth, half the people will like you and half won’t.” The underlying question it brings up is; “which half do you want as friends?”
(10) If I get caught lying, will I get in trouble? So, the lie unravels. Everyone knows the truth. Are their any negative consequences? Obviously for the child who kept the “surprise party” a secret or even told her mother; “I’m going with Dad to lunch” when she really was going to set up for that party, there is no getting into trouble. But what about the child who lies about a grade she got on a today’s quiz? Tells you she already studied for tomorrow’s test when she didn’t? Says “I don’t know” when you ask where her big brother is when she knows he’s doing something you’ve told him not to do? Your child likely knows that consequences would be imminent.
As we know, mistakes will happen. If we use those mistakes to help our children make better choices next time, we will be strengthening their integrity.
In the end, we are cultivating future leaders. And I imagine, as Powerful Parents, you would agree, that we want our future leaders to base their decisions on well-instilled values and principles rather than what is fast, popular, and self-serving. These questions are part of critical thinking skills that they can apply today and for the rest of their lives.