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School-age children lie to deceive someone, just as lying by an adult is for the purpose of deception. The good news is that the child has matured to the point where he or she can tell an adult-type lie. The bad news is that you will likely become both angry and hurt when you realize that your child is lying to you.
All children will deliberately lie at one time or other. Children lie to AVOID PUNISHMENT OR CRITICISM, to GET OUT OF meeting an obligation, to IMPRESS someone, to CON someone, or to enhance their STATUS.
Some children will lie to test their parents. They want to check on whether lies are acceptable or not, or they want to see if their parents are paying attention to what they are saying.
Look for the reason. If the child is lying about homework, maybe there’s trouble with school. If the child is lying about obedience to a house rule, perhaps there needs to be a family conference about these rules and why they are hard to follow. If the child is lying to impress a friend, perhaps the child has a self-esteem problem. Your job is to figure out why the child is lying.
Never use entrapment to check for truthfulness. Instead of asking your son where he was and gleefully catching him in a lie, say you saw him playing video games at the mall when he was supposed to be doing his homework at the library. Ask the child to help you devise a logical and appropriate sanction for not being where he was supposed to be. Focus on the underlying broken rule, not the lie.
The important lesson you must teach your child is that lying hurts people because it destroys the basic contract of trust. The underlying thing the child is covering up is of importance to parents. But lying itself can hurt the children (nobody will trust them) as well as the person lied to. Lying hurts the people who trust us: robbing trust is as serious as stealing any other prized possession.
WHEN YOUR CHILD ASKS ABOUT WHITE LIES
What should parents do about “white lies”, those untruths we tell to avoid hurting someone’s feelings?
How people feel about honesty varies from culture to culture. In Japan it is so important to preserve social harmony that it is virtually REQUIRED that one avoid telling the truth if it would hurt someone’s feelings. Western parents teach their children that any act of lying is bad.
All of us should learn to tolerate ambiguity. This complex world we live in can no longer be viewed as black and white – if indeed it ever could be. We have to teach our children two rules as they are growing up: 1) TELL THE TRUTH and 2) DON’T HURT PEOPLE’S FEELINGS. And we have to teach them when to use each rule.
Explain that we don’t say, “Your casserole tasted awful and we gave it to the dog!” Instead we say “Thank you for sharing your new recipe with us!” If your child points out that you’re not telling the truth, explain that both truth and empathy are important.
One more suggestion: if you want a child to learn that the best life is lived by people who trust each other and value the truth, model that trust and truth for the child. DON’T LIE TO YOUR CHILD!
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