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What to Do When You Catch Your Child in a Lie

My teenager looked me in the eye and lied. The words that left her mouth were the inverse of the truth and I knew it. She knew it. And she knew I knew.

I waited. I didn’t call her out on her lie. I just cocked my head a little, looked her back straight in the eye and waited for her to blink. Because if she blinked…the truth would escape her lips before she could stop it.

I waited. The cat jumped on the counter and broke the tension.

She giggled. I smiled. And waited.

“Fine Mom. You know. I know you know. What’s my punishment?”

Now hold on a minute. She lied knowing she’d most likely get caught. She didn’t care about the punishment (usually an extra chore or reduction in phone privileges). Evidently, I haven’t been getting through to her. I didn’t care so much about the lie itself, more so her attitude towards the truth. The thought that the truth is optional unless caught.

“You can decide what you think is appropriate. I don’t want to hear your decision for 24 hours. Think about how you’d feel if someone lied to your face, didn’t care so much about getting caught, and how you’d help them realize this is a behavior that needs to stop.”

I walked away and went back to folding laundry. She followed behind me and started to help me with folding–something I normally have to ask for help with. I asked about her day. She answered cautiously. She floundered because I wasn’t upset and just went back to my day. We chatted, finished folding and she walked away.

Dinner that night was on the fly because that’s how our world works–someone’s working, at practice, needs to go to practice, homework requires attention…we’re just a busy crew. There was no time to really sit and talk about the happenings of that day.

The next morning she got up early and asked me to braid her hair. It’s been a while since she’s asked that of me. I knew she was trying to figure out what to do or say. Honestly, I was totally okay with her being emotionally challenged on this. I didn’t bring it up or remind her we were going to be chatting in about 10 hours. I gave her a hug and a peck on the cheek and sent her out the door to the bus.

She texted me as soon as she got home from school. “When are you going to be home from work?” I told her and she said, “Okay.”

I walked in and she found me and asked if we could chat in my room. That’s usually a place where we go to talk about things she doesn’t want anyone to hear. Friend issues, the need for me to buy tampons for her, new bras, and the dreaded dating topic.

“Mom. I couldn’t come up with anything.”

“I am just disappointed in myself. I can clean the bathrooms for a month or do the kitty box for the month. I can’t figure out why I lied about something stupid. I knew you’d know. I can clean the dishes for a week. I would be so mad if I were you. I don’t know why I lied. It was dumb. I’m going to do better.” All of this gushed out of her little face in about 15 seconds.

I put up a hand. Our sign to take a breath and let the other person talk.

I simply gave her a hug.

“You figured it out. You put yourself in my shoes for a day and considered what to do. And you deciding to try to do better….we’re good. That was probably a long day for you. I know it was for me.”

We talked for about an hour, just hanging out and connecting. Our family is in the middle of one of our busier seasons and the reasons why lying seemed easier than doing what she was supposed to do came up but we didn’t focus on it.

By taking the time to think, we both learned a lot. She grew a bit. I stayed calm and didn’t take her lying to me personally. I think I grew a bit too. These kids don’t come with an instruction manual and every single day I fail at something. But as long as I learn something too it’s good. Kids are the same – they’re supposed to try and fail…try and succeed… and it’s our job to help them stay on the right path.

A truthful path.

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