My daughter lies but eventually tells the truth under pressure


If a child lies about something but eventually tells the truth under pressure, should she be punished for not telling the truth in the first place, or will that just encourage her to persist in the lie the next time?  It seems to me we should be teaching them that the right thing to do is tell the truth immediately.  Any other pattern equals deception.  Right?


Lying is wrong and should be punished. When a child is caught but doesn't admit to wrongdoing, the punishment is severe. When a child admits a lie, then the punishment is reduced. (See God's treatment of David in II Samuel 12:7-14 and notice the reduction in terms when David admitted he had sinned.)

Punishing wrongdoing is not "encouragement" to persist in wrongdoing. That is a modern-day myth that actually has no foundation in reality. What encourages wrongdoing is when a child gets away with wrongdoing, either by lack of discovery or by the wrong being ignored when it is discovered (Ecclesiastes 8:11). It creates a gambler's streak where a person contemplates wrong and starts to think well maybe this time I'll get away with it again.

Answer from a Sister in Christ

We went through this a while ago with our son and it was really hard on me.  I was unprepared for how much it hurt when he would look me straight in the eye and lie to me.  I talked to him about what a big deal it was and we got out the Bible, but it didn't stop.  I was unsure of how to discipline him because he would get really upset and finally burst out with the truth through the tears and I was just beside myself.  What I decided to do, after much prayer and thought on the subject, was to discipline for every lie.  We usually reserve spanking for outright defiance, and I thought that lying fell in this category.  Sometimes, I was unsure that it was the right thing to do because the truth always came out when he was pressed for it.  I spanked him for every lie, no matter how small.  After I did this, I made sure that we talked about it in great detail and I explained why it had to be this way and what he could have done differently.  I tried to explain to him that although he might have to be disciplined even when he tells me the truth about something, I would be proud of him and God would be happy with him for telling the truth.  I also told him that he would feel much better about himself for doing the right thing.  This went on for a while until one day his little sister started crying when they were in the playroom together.  I asked him what had happened and I come to expect him to lie about it.  He took a deep breath and said, " I don't know."  I knew it was a lie, but before I could even respond to him, he hung his head and said, "That's not true. That's a lie. I was throwing toys out of the toy box and I accidentally hit her with one. I didn't do it on purpose, but I made her cry."  I was so happy.  I made him apologize to his sister and then I gave him the biggest hug and told him how proud I was that he told me the truth.  We had quite a moment and he was so proud of himself.  It was a hard one on him and me, but I think that we have passed it.  I believe that he tells me the truth now and I no longer hate to ask him a question for the fear that the answer will be a lie.  I am just hoping that this will help you a little.  It is hard to discipline when they are already upset, but it is necessary for this situation, I think.  I just wanted you to know that you are not alone on this.  It's a hard one.  I know, because I've been there.

Answer from a Sister in Christ

I just wanted to add a couple of thoughts.  One is by way of encouragement.  It has been our experience with all six of our normal seven children (one is mentally retarded, so it's not quite the same), that children typically begin lying by age four.  It's a normal developmental thing, which is not to say that it shouldn't be punished, it should, and quite consistently, or it becomes a much more serious problem.

I have a theory about this: When they are younger children are not aware that their parents cannot see everything they can. We see this when they are looking at a book and tell us to look at the picture, but they are holding the book so only they can see it.  At some point, they begin to understand that their parents do not see and know everything, and this is fascinating to them.  They experiment with it, like a child poking his finger through a hole in a sweater.  Quite often at this stage, their lies don't even make sense; it's just silly to lie about the things they lie about.  The more they get away with it, the more they lie, and then they begin to fully realize the possibilities of deception and their lies become more specific and purposeful.  If this doesn't get dealt with every single time, it becomes habitual.

Anyway, that's just my theory. I know quite often people are devastated when their children begin telling lies, sure that they've done something wrong to cause this.  So I just wanted to offer that as encouragement: you don't have to have done anything wrong for your children to have begun lying.  They will, nearly all of them, begin by age four, no matter what their parenting has been.  It must be dealt with, of course, it just needn't bring to mind visions of a lifetime of criminal activity and ruin for the child, which is how I felt the first time I realized I was being deceived by my child.

We had this problem with our oldest because I couldn't believe she would really lie to me.  I should have caught on sooner than I did, but I was naive, so I let her get away with it much longer than I should have.  I had to learn to discipline for lying every single time, no matter what.  I did make a mistake once or twice and did not believe her when she was telling the truth, but this was a marvelous teaching tool. I pointed out that formerly I had always believed everything she said, but because she had started lying, I no longer could, and that people who had told lies could not blame anybody but themselves when they were not believed.  We had a good long talk about reputation, about trustworthiness, about being the sort of person who could always be believed.  It was hard, but by the time she was eight, I could once again believe everything she said.  She is now an extremely trustworthy and reliable adult who loathes dishonesty.  Nobody ever doubts her because she is so honest.

I will add that I have witnessed ongoing dishonesty in families where the children are disciplined harshly and erratically; the sort where they are never sure whether they will be punished for something or not.  It's easier for them to lie to take the gamble that today Dad is in a bad mood and will punish for something he laughed at yesterday.  Consistency is so important, and I think parents who make the cost of telling the truth higher than the cost of lying make a grave mistake.

I think for Christians, we must be careful not to depend on things of the world to do for us what we have been given the ability by God to do.  And yet we must sometimes depend on others and other things to aid us in living our life to glorify Him.  Even Timothy was told to "take a little wine," right?  In the end, it's one of those "situation" answers, as you point out.

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