Ki Sisa- 5776
Hi Rabbi Ross. I’m not sure if this is only a website for Jewish Parenting, or all types of parenting questions. My son who is 10 years old, is lying compulsively. When I ask him if he Davened, made a Bracha or Bentched, he always says yes, even though I know he didn’t. He lies about having done his homework, and pretty much about everything else. I don’t want to be mean and start a fight. My husband feels that it’s a faze, and he’ll grow out of it, but he would also love to hear your thoughts. - Name Redacted, Brooklyn.
Hi. Although you allowed me to put your name in, I felt that it should not be publicized. To answer your first question, this e-mail (and blog) is for all parenting issues. Let’s discuss your main question.
I am not a psychologist nor the son of psychologists (although my parents are pretty awesome BH), but it seems to me that your son is not a compulsive liar. The examples that you have given seem to imply that he’s lying because he’s scared or because it’s convenient. These are called white lies. On the other hand, if your son is lying all the time, and he has nothing to gain from it, I would suggest you get professional help.
In any case, I don’t really like using the word “lie” very often, as it’s very negative. Let’s refer to it as not telling the truth. There are many reasons that children don’t tell the truth. Obviously, it’s beyond the scope of this E-mail to go into the psychological explanations, so we’ll try to focus on some hints and tips. Interestingly enough, the Torah doesn’t tell us not to lie - it tells us to stay far away from a lie. The best way to instill within our children the importance of being honest, is to always be honest yourself. This means keeping our word all the time, and staying away from anything dishonest. I read once that a Gadol said you shouldn’t even call over a child that’s learning to walk, and then move back as he waddles over, as this encourages dishonesty.
When it comes to having a child who’s not being honest, the most important rule is not to give him the opportunity to do so. Instead of asking your son if he did his homework, just tell him “It’s time to do your homework.” There is the chance that he’ll say he did it, in which case you can ask him how well or neatly he completed it. This way your child doesn’t think that you automatically assume he’s not telling the truth. If he doesn’t have it, you should not call him a liar or make a huge issue. Simply say “I’m disappointed that you were not 100% truthful with me, and tell him to do it again. End of conversation.
You mentioned that he isn’t honest about Brachos. I’m not a big fan of forcing kids to make Brachos to begin with (not a discussion for this E-mail), but there is no reason to ask him if he made a Bracha. You can simply remind him that an apple is a Ha'etz, and leave it at that. Another idea would be, after he's eaten bread, casually hand him a bencher and say “Here you go.” The same holds true for many scenarios. If we don’t give children the opportunity to lie, there’s a good chance they won't.
Another example you wrote about was regarding homework. In situations like this, you can mention that you will not discuss things with someone who is not being truthful. Here’s an example. If he comes and home and says “I have no homework tonight”, and you find out from another mom that he does, you can’t ignore it. It’s best if both parents call the child in together and say, “You told us that you had no homework, and that wasn’t the truth. It is unacceptable for you to say something that is not truthful. We are not going to tolerate this behavior. Please go do your homework right now.” If he tried to defend himself saying he thought there was no homework, you need to firmly explain that unless he knew there was no homework, he should not have said that.
However, when he tells the truth about anything, make sure to acknowledge it. Positive reinforcement can really go a long way. When he tells you what his homework is, you can tell him “Thank you for being honest with me. It’s great that I’m able to trust you!”
I have a few suggestions that I’ve compiled over the years, which might help.
• Don’t ask your child questions if you already know the answer. For example - “Did you brush your teeth?” isn’t a good question if you see the toothbrush hasn’t been touched and is still dry. Rather say, “You need to brush your teeth” or “You haven’t yet brushed your teeth”
• Is it more important that your child be honest, or that he be perfect? If the former **(yes!)**, then he has to know that confessions are met with appreciation of his honesty, and a reduced or eliminated penalty. When a child says, "Yes, I chopped down the cherry tree", the emphasis must be on the courage of his honesty. The way to do that is by showing him that he will get off easier without the cover-up. We must make sure that the consequences of honesty are always better than lying.
• The line between exaggerating and being dishonest can easily get blurred. If you have a child who exaggerates frequently, ("I was studying for 10 hours already!"), gently correct him ("Actually, it was for 15 minutes"). This way he understands that speaking the truth is a full-time responsibility. There is a Yiddish expression, “A half of a truth is a whole lie.”
• Compulsive children tend to blurt out things that are untrue because they don’t have as much self-control. When a student says something that is obviously untrue, I like to pretend I didn’t hear him, and say, “Can you repeat that?” Very often he’ll be honest the second time around. The same holds true for your child. Give him the chance to correct himself whenever possible if you feel it was impulsive.
• Help children believe that mistakes are opportunities to learn and grow. This way they won't believe they need to cover up their mistakes by being dishonest. This is one of the first things I learned when I became a Rebbe twenty years ago. My Menahel called me over and told me, “A good Rebbe makes mistakes every day – a great Rebbe makes new mistakes every day."
• Share with your children the times when it was difficult for you to tell the truth, but you decided it was more important to experience the consequences and keep your self-respect. Be sure this is honest sharing instead of a boring lecture.
• Let children know they are unconditionally loved. Many children lie because they are afraid the truth will disappoint their parents. Show appreciation. "Thank you for telling the truth. I know that was difficult. I admire the way you are willing to face the consequences, and I know you can handle them and learn from them."
• If your child is refusing to admit he’s not telling the truth, don’t continue the conversation. End it by saying “I can’t have a discussion with someone who’s being dishonest.” Don’t ask them later if they’re ready to tell the truth yet. It’s not an option.
• There are many great books for kids that teach the importance of telling the truth. You can start reading them to your kids at a young age so they understand the consequences.
• When your child is approximately 10 years old (or older) and he is not being honest, you can explain that trust needs to be earned. If they violate that trust, you will have to double check everything they say. ("I know you say you don’t have homework, but since you haven’t always been truthful, I’ll need to check with someone.")
• Another thing to stay away from is sarcasm. It’s pretty hard for a 5-year-old to understand why you’re saying, “This music is amazing” if you’re making a funny face.
These next two ideas I don’t think are good ones. I’m including them as food for thought.
• One mother told me she gives her son a lollipop when he tells the truth. It seems to me that giving your child a treat when he’s honest is counterproductive. Do we reward our kids for breathing? How about for sleeping? I don’t think this is a great idea. A compliment should be enough.
• I actually lied to my own son many years ago. He was constantly being dishonest, so one night I told him that we were having ice cream. When he came to me for his ice cream, I told him “I made it up. How does it feel?” He was very sad. I can’t be sure if it helped or not, and I don’t recommend doing this.
The ultimate goal is to ensure that our children don’t feel the need to be dishonest, and are comfortable telling the truth. We don’t want to make a huge issue about every little thing, and if it’s possible to easily ignore something he said, simply ignore it. Choosing our battles is a great way to win at parenting.
Have a great Shabbos.
I would love to hear your thoughts! Please remember that all comments are moderated.
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.