What Do I Do About a Child Who Lies?

Recently I asked on the Preschoolers and Peace Facebook page what you all would like to see covered on the blog before I take a summer break. So many of you responded with great questions and ideas! Thank you. I'll try to get to them all as best I can.

Preschoolers&Peace Lying Child.jpg

Rebecca commented, "[I'd like] creative ideas for disciplining a three year old (almost four) who is having problems telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."

Back in 2010 another reader asked the same question, so I'm just going to double up. Here's how I answered Stacy about her child who was struggling with lying:

We consider, and probably you do too, lying to be one of the worst habits a child can form.  We try to snuff out lying and deception as expediently as possible because when trust is broken down within a family, it's very, very difficult to regain.

Therefore, lying carries the heaviest discipline around here.  We communicate that, too.  We've only had two who have lost our trust for a long period of time because of lying, and they feel the consequence of that loss sorely when we say, "I'm sorry honey.  I'd love to believe you but I just can't."  In the case of the child who is the oldest of the two and who seems to have conquered this ugly habit, the loss of trust was felt deeply enough that it reformed him.

However, I know that this isn't the case for everyone.  We have friends who have children who chronically lie or are sneaky, and it is emotionally taxing for them as parents.  I say that because I don't want what I wrote above to give you the false impression that after a period of mistrust, your child will be cured of lying forever.  Life's messier than that.  So if that's the position you're in, I'm just going to encourage you to stay the course.  Do not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season you shall reap!  I was a liar as a child and young adult, and it wasn't until the Holy Spirit got ahold of me in this area that I changed my ways.  Keep praying for the work of the Holy Spirit on behalf of your children. And tell them, everyday, that only Jesus can be their righteousness, no matter how hard they try. His grace covers all!

All that said, would some practical ideas help? Charts with stickers can be a great motivator. One sticker for each day telling the truth and then a celebration when the chart is filled. This gets into a little bit of muddy water for me, though, because I never want to just deal with a child on merely the behavioral level. If you do something like a chart, be sure you're telling the child they are loved and they live under the banner "It is finished!" even if they slip into lying.

I love stories that illustrate a character issue and the consequneces that can arise when we fall into a particular sin. Lying is a sin that can easily become a habit very difficult to break, so stories about people whose lives were gravely affected by a lie can be very powerful. Look for story books that deal with lying, such as the classic Pinnochio. Conversely, steer clear of books that weave some lying in (particularly child to parent), and where that lie told produces a good result or at least goes undetected. 

And then tell that lying child again the good news: Jesus is perfect! When God looks at you, He sees Jesus! Even when we lie, we can never lose His love. The law never motivates, but love and grace always win!