The Three Most Important Life Lessons a Child Needs to Learn

Lesson 1: Lying or Breaking Trust

Most children try lying at least once; a number of them must revisit this lesson many times. In many ways, it would be foolish not to, for if you get away with the lie, you win - or seem to win. You at least seem to get away with what you have done. Children lie for the same reasons adults do: the punishment is too great for the crime or too huge to pay (they will not be allowed to go to a specific place); no one listens to their viewpoint so there is no reason to even try to make a point (think of marijuana use); dishonesty has worked in the past; they do not wish to own a specific misbehavior and/or be perceived as what they are (perhaps they failed a test); or, they do not understand the real consequences of lying and breaking trust with others. It is important that we as parents or teachers do not set children up to lie. Asking a child, with juice dripping all over her face and shirt, if she has gotten into the juice is our mistake. Telling her you see juice all over her shirt gives her an opportunity to confess. Never ask a child anything you already know. Let them know you know, without blaming.

How can we reduce or eliminate lying? Always apply discipline, not punishment. Teach your child that the original misbehavior is never as bad as the lie; the lie is never worth it. Avoid over-exaggerated statements such as "I'll never believe you again," or "You always lie," and overly severe actions like grounding for a month or spanking. Try to discover why the child felt the need to lie and solve the problem.

Listening to children, and helping them understand that their viewpoint is important and worth taking time for, are very important. If a child knows you are willing to listen, she will talk to you. Taking time and energy to listen to your children during times of crisis as well as times of calm is an excellent investment which will repay you many times.

If a child lies and you know it, always address it. Do not pass over lying and do not let it work and become a viable technique. Every child must learn that he owns all of his behavior, whether anyone else knows about it or not, or whether he lies about it or not. And you are how you behave, not how you say you behave. Liars lie, thieves steal - by definition. Teach your child that everyone makes mistakes and that these become some of our best lessons in life, if we are willing to first own them. Only by owning the mistake and learning from it can we move on with our lives in an emotionally healthy manner.

Finally, the most important lesson concerning lying is that lying breaks trust. Relationships depend on trust. Lying shatters a relationship. And as my child, you are one person with whom I must have a relationship; you are entirely too important. The child's job becomes rebuilding trust. He does this by telling the truth repeatedly and without exception, and by doing what he says he will do. As the child rebuilds trust, the parent can begin to give back freedom. Freedom is also dependent upon trust. If I cannot trust you to do what you said you would, how can I possibly let you out of my sight? Breaking trust, shattering the parent-child relationship should be taught as a most destructive situation, and one to be avoided. Telling the truth is always better, no matter the original violation.

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