When one lecturer recently asked a group of foster parents what behavior they would most like to eliminate in their child’s repertoire, lying led the list. “It’s a betrayal of family trust,” declared one father. “How can you ever trust him if you never know whether you are getting the truth?”
Lying frustrates foster parents like no other behavior because it appears totally within the child’s control. Because this is so obvious, long lectures on the importance of truth are a waste of breath. Instead, focus on obtaining the desired result. Good discipline focuses on solving the problem. Bad discipline attacks and belittles the child while trying to control his or her mind.
While children may lie to exaggerate or to get attention, the two reasons of most concern to parents are to avoid incriminating themselves and to gain an advantage. Our Supreme Court in 1966 (Miranda vs. Arizona) answered the first reason by declaring that no person is obliged to confess or incriminate themselves.
Parenting becomes much simpler if we extend this privilege to our children. Don’t ask them. Instead, gather what evidence is available and then take precautions. If items are missing, conduct a room search. Frisk them before they leave for school or to play. And don’t tempt them. Secure your valuables like money, credit cards, jewelry, electronic devices, and other portable possessions.
The second reason children (and adults) lie is to get their way. As one foster teen told his parents: “If I told you where I was really going, you would have said no.” The best way to handle this attempt to mislead is to take away the payoff. If your foster teen is not where he said he was going to be, you can no longer trust his word. As the proverb says: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Don’t lecture or make a big deal of it. No need to punish. Instead, from now on, you must check up on him. Check discreetly with the other parents to learn if your Sally was really invited for an overnight. Ask the school to notify you whenever he misses school or a class, even if he comes with a note the next day. He may be resourceful enough to have written his own excuse.
The consequence for lying is a loss of trust. No need for grounding or taking away of privileges in a usually unsuccessful attempt to get at the truth. No need to give up on your foster child. Instead, you have simply adopted a more realistic style of parenting and can go on affirming other good qualities.