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Why don’t you trust me?

How do parents respond when children lie?

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, all the lords in Ireland were required to turn over the deeds to their lands. Lord Cormac Teige McCarthy knew that direct defiance was not an option. But certainly there were tasks that needed to be accomplished before he could surrender Blarney Castle! Legend has it that the queen’s representative returned from Ireland several times with a promise of cooperation and a plausible excuse rather than the title to the castle. Finally the queen responded with the now-classic, “More Blarney!” Contemporary tourists flock to kiss the Blarney Stone and acquire the gift of eloquent speech. But every gift has its shadow side. The charm of storytelling is a delight, but deliberate deception hurts relationships.

Moral development is a process

From the time a preschooler leaves chocolate-icing fingerprints on a kitchen counter and then claims not to have eaten a cupcake, to the time when a teen describes a trip to the library but the odometer registers five times that distance, parents need to help their children put the words of faith into action. The response to everyday events builds an attitude in the family; we love one another and want to live as followers of Jesus. This means that we need to be able to trust what we say to one another.

When trust is broken

When a child lies and privileges are taken away, the response is often, “You don’t trust me!” as if this is outrageous behavior on the part of the parents. The goal, of course, is to get the parents on the defensive so that they will change the consequence for the behavior. However, instead of being cajoled into an argument with a teen, one can simply acknowledge the statement, “Yes, once trust is broken it takes a long time to rebuild.”

Be discreet when telling the truth

Our catechism notes that our communications must be based on fraternal love. There are times when it is appropriate to be silent because others don’t always have the right to know what we know. (CCC #2489) Make use of “teachable moments” as they occur in order to help your child understand this distinction. For example, children might accuse parents of lying because they won’t divulge the reasons for a friend’s divorce to an acquaintance who asks for details.

Encourage young children as their imaginations create playful stories. Throughout childhood, listen carefully to their stories of friends and school, ask questions and enjoy the embellishments; eventually, in adulthood, they may want to hear the tales of your youth!