QUESTION My oldest daughter, Krista (not her real name) will turn 8 soon and be baptized. Krista has always struggled with lying. She will carry on a lie for an hour, even when we know 100% that she is lying. Yesterday for instance, she lied for 45 minutes about taking a bite of a piece of old food in the car that had fallen under a seat. I knew she was lying, because I saw the food in her mouth, but she still maintained that she hadn’t eaten it. She finally admitted she had eaten it and told me it is because she gets embarrassed when she does something wrong.
Especially with her baptism coming up, I want her to understand that lying is a bad thing. But she doesn’t seem to understand and always goes back to lying. She doesn’t get in trouble a lot, but when she lies, she does get in trouble. We don’t spank our kids, but we do put them in their rooms or in time out for lies. Krista still lies. I am not sure what to do, or what to say, to help her stop this.
The other difficulty I have with Krista is that we seem to butt heads a lot. She seems to be able to bring out my temper and yelling easily. We raise voices and we get frustrated and mad at each other. I want to have a home where we don’t have so much contention, but Krista and I seem to bring it out in each other. I know that I am the mother and as such, should be able to avoid allowing that to happen, but it is so hard. I don’t know what I can do for myself to help be better. But I also don’t know what I can do for her. She thinks that everything we say or do to her is an attack on her. She takes everything personally and only seems to see the bad in her life. She never notices all the good things she does or that happens to her. I want to try and help us both be better, but I don’t know what to do.
My first thought was to pray. And I have prayed about this a lot. But it seems like every time I pray for help with being more patient, my patience is tested about a thousand times more than it ever is otherwise. I am at a loss as to what to pray for anymore. It makes me feel like this horrible mother when I respond the way I do with her and I don’t like feeling this way, and I don’t like the way Krista is feeling about me either.
ANSWER Some kids are more challenging than others. Let’s just admit it. It doesn’t mean we don’t have the same responsibility to love and teach them, but we need to recognize that, if our child came defiant and rebellious, we may have to adjust both our parenting and our expectations.
This is a challenging situation, as you say. My thoughts here don’t represent a comprehensive answer or approach, but are more in the nature of a few things to keep in mind.
- “Guard the relationship.” My husband must have said this hundreds of times, while we were rearing our kids. Some kids are less pleasant and less likable than others, so we have to work harder at it. (Remember that Christ taught, if we love those that love us, not too impressive, even the publicans can do that. When we learn to love those that are difficult to love, now He’s paying attention.) Particularly with a less likable child, this means we plan and carry out pleasant and enjoyable activities that draw us closer. Relationships can be likened to a bank account: you can’t make withdrawals if you don’t make deposits first. Make many, ongoing deposits.
- It’s easier to like them if we don’t measure our worth or our success as a parent by how our kids behave. Remember, the product of parenting isn’t the child, it’s the parent. The Plan—and I do mean “The Plan”—is for difficult children to help us become better adults. I love Elder Bruce Hafen’s story about a red-headed son that was driving him crazy. When he was complaining to his wife about that son, she responded, “Bruce, that child was sent to make Christians out of us!” When trying to figure out how to change a child, we should also be asking how to change ourselves as parents so we can better teach, regulate, and exemplify.
- If a consequence or punishment is not achieving the desired results, then you nee a new consequence. Personally, while “time out” may have it’s uses (and the best use is for parents, in my opinion), it doesn’t teach and—as it sounds in this case—is often not very effective. In order for behavior to change, the cost has to outweigh the payoff. So you may need to brainstorm with your husband and pray together about what consequences might raise the cost and be most effective for Krista. It needs to be something she really doesn’t like. I mean REALLY doesn’t like. It’s best if the consequence is connected to the offense, but sometimes it’s a stretch, I admit. Since lying “stains” us with sin and makes us unclean and unworthy of our Heavenly Father’s presence, maybe you impose a cleaning consequence Krista doesn’t like—maybe cleaning toilets (make sure she cleans them well, which will require supervision).
- Interesting that Krista said she lied because she was embarrassed at doing something wrong. It could be that she is a bit of a perfectionist. That may sound strange but sometimes that can be a part of a lying response. Either way, it’s important to regularly discuss that it’s okay for us to make mistakes or to not be perfect, as long as we’re willing to learn and improve. Mistakes, even bad choices, shouldn’t be seen as catastrophic. Ironically, in their effort to hide smaller, less offensive-to-God imperfections, people can try to cover their mistakes or sins with lies, thus terribly offending our God of truth.
- Keep teaching and reviewing the Plan of Salvation. Therein lie all the best motivators. Make sure this isn’t preachy but loving and celebratory. Our children should see these tremendous truths as the great gift they are, not as a club that beats them up. Talk about truth as an essential component of any healthy relationship. Talk about the importance of being honest with ourselves as the foundation of any chance to grow and improve.
- Discuss with Krista the importance of correctly weighing immediate benefits against long-term benefits. Lying may keep her out of trouble for a moment or two but not only does she face unpleasant consequences when she is (inevitably) caught, but she is building a wall between herself and her Heavenly Father. (See an earlier post on Delayed Gratification, “The Key to Success in LIfe.”)
- When we pray for a muscle to be strengthened, we most often get a weight to lift. God doesn’t usually endow us with improvement. He gives us the opportunity to improve. So it makes complete sense that when you ask for patience, you get increased opportunities J. To help you utilize those opportunities more successfully, take “time-outs” for yourself. Go into your bedroom, bathroom, or closet and take several deep breaths and then say a prayer. Then be more patient than you were before. Step by step . . . .
- Pray with Krista when you need help. That might mean you pull the car over (as in your example) and say a prayer that Krista will understand how essential it is that we love and honor truth. Pray that she will understand that her Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ already know what’s in her mouth and ask that Krista be wise and strong and answer truthfully. Again, VERY IMPORTANT to make these petitions loving and kind, NEVER punitive or preachy. And be sure to pray for yourself, as Krista’s mother, right there with her listening, asking that you can become a better parent and be able to help her in the ways she needs.
- It can also be good for Krista to see you pray when you need patience. It’s good for our children to see us asking for help to be better parents for them and then to see us improve.
- Give it time. Give time to Krista. Some kids take more time, effort, and persistence, but if we keep at it—learning to be better parents as we go—they usually start to respond, little by little. And give yourself time to develop the patience you need and to learn to like her better. God is more concerned with our direction than with our speed.
Best wishes and may God bless all parents.