Never Set Your Child Up To Lie

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I have a confession: I’m not a perfect parent. I have had (and continue to have) my share of struggles raising our two children, and learn more every day about general parenting skills, as well as how to tailor those techniques to each child’s personality. Fortunately, my job puts me in a position to learn from lots of people’s mistakes, so I feel like it’s only fair if I share some of mine with you.

Last night, while I was preparing dinner, my 3-year-old daughter called to me from the bathroom that she needed help wiping. It wasn’t urgent, and I was in the middle of something, so it took me a minute or two to get in there. When I opened the door, I was surprised (sort of) to see a large pile of toilet paper on the floor–large enough to be sure it wasn’t accidental. So I knelt down in front of her and asked, “Who put all that toilet paper on the floor?”

“Mr. Nobody did it,” she replied without hesitation, referencing an imaginary friend that makes appearances around our house from time to time and has a bit of a naughty streak.

I saw my foul as I made the play, and maybe you did too. I had set her up to lie. Kids lie for lots of reasons, but the most common is to avoid getting into trouble. They want to please you, and they don’t like the consequences that they know will follow–so they look for a way out. The way I phrased my question, it was obvious that she had only two choices: lie or get in trouble. If it works, the behavior is reinforced, and lying becomes a chronic problem. The harsher the punishment they fear, the more likely they are to lie to avoid it.

Now for me, honesty is far more important than a roll of toilet paper. It’s even more important than bringing home a bad report card, crashing my car, or getting pregnant (none of which I’ve had to deal with yet, thank God). Relationships are built on trust, and I want my children to be honest with me, no matter what the situation. That’s not to say that there shouldn’t be consequences for poor decisions–those are vital, too. You just have to weigh the importance of correcting two different behaviors and parent accordingly.

Fortunately, I was able to pull out of this one before I crashed in a ball of flames, and I turned it into a positive and minimally-confrontational teaching moment about the importance of honesty (with a short aside about not wasting toilet paper). Next time, I think I’ll go with: “I see you made a big pile of toilet paper on the floor. Let’s not do that anymore, ok?” You should, too.