Communicating Honestly | Teaching Self-Government

Communicating Honestly

Nicholeen, 

I spoke to you in Herriman about my 8-year-old daughter. She doesn't tell me things or talk to me or anyone for that fact (other than day-to-day stuff). I told you she wouldn't even tell me what she wanted for Christmas, etc. Anyway, you suggested that I have 5 minutes. a day with her just asking/answering questions. I want you to know that has helped and I have noticed she is excited to have that time. What is bothering me, though, is that today I discovered she had burned her arm and never told me. I noticed it as she was sitting next to me. I gently put my arm around her and told her if she hurts herself, she needs to tell me so I can take care of it. I then took her and put some medicine on it. I asked her how she had done it and she said she didn't know (this is a typical response from her).

Also, she is always trying to get her 7-year-old sister to do things that she knows are not right. For example, my 7 year old told me the other day that her sister told her to take a toy ring from a house we were visiting. I know that she does these things because I myself have heard her in the past. How do you handle dishonesty and trust issues? I love her dearly and am deeply concerned by her behaviors.

From,
A Happy Mommy

Dear Happy Mommy,

I had a few foster daughters that didn't know how to communicate honestly. There is usually a reason why people choose this behavior. You will probably want to question why she doesn't feel that it's safe to speak the truth.  Some people are just private by nature, or really introverted, and some people have been punished instead of praised when they've told the truth in the past, and so don't see a difference between the two things. If she isn't just an introvert, she might have thought that she would get signs of frustration or a lecture about safety if she reported the burning incident. Maybe she made a bad choice that caused the burn and doesn't want to report that.

Many people feel like they're in control of their world when they're dishonest. If they can control what people understand, they feel empowered. Maybe in the past her dishonesty was rewarded or is still being rewarded. Maybe people don't point out her dishonesty every time it happens. Thinking that they're giving her the benefit of doubt, they're actually showing her that dishonesty works more often than it doesn't. Many people are willing to take that risk. 

Trust me, I was one of those people in my youth. I often came out on top when I would skip a chore or tell a fib to my family or friends. Most people just automatically trust. If this is the case, it's good you're catching it now. People who never get caught in their lies have terrible relationships later in life and can't learn to govern themselves. Self-government requires honesty. Lucky for me, a friend caught me in a lie and it made a huge impact! So big was the impact that I decided to change all on my own without any help from parents or anyone else. However, it still took me years to be honest enough to admit that I had had a problem with lying. The devil's biggest tool is lies. There's power that comes with lying. It's addictive. No one can really understand unless he/she has broken free from that power. And even after that break it's hard to give up the old power that you remember having by admitting past lies. Sounds strange, but trust me on this one.   

It sounds like she has a pretty severe honesty issue. Since that's the case, make sure that teaching honesty is a higher priority than teaching other behaviors. I haven't observed her, but I would bet that everything she does or doesn't do is a form of dishonesty. Saying, "I don't know" is dishonest. I don't tolerate that in my home. If a question is asked during a calm parent/child conversation (not out of frustration), then the youth's answer should never be "I don't know" — unless it's said in all honesty. If children ever conveniently forget anything, that child is being dishonest. To teach honesty, your tolerances must be LOW on this. Do not tolerate it. That doesn't mean that you have to get angry, but it means that you have to really look at all behaviors with "honesty goggles" on, and then teach them. 

How Do You Teach Honesty? 

1) Hold a counseling session.

First, you should have a counseling session with your daughter. Invite her to stay up late one evening. Enjoy some ice cream or some other favorite snack together. Tell her that you want to have a great talk with her, but there's a rule you have for the talk: if you ask her a question, or if she asks you a question, then both of you have to tell whatever you think and you can't say, "I don't know." Shake on the agreement. Pray with her for the Spirit to be present during your conversation. Tell her that you know that when she said... that is was a lie, and when she did... that it was a lie, and when she didn't... it was dishonest, etc. Expose everything you know in the kindest voice possible. Tell her that you haven't said things in the past because you hoped she would choose to be honest all on her own. Tell her any story you might feel appropriate when you might have been dishonest as a child (as long as you don't think it will give her new ideas), and what you later learned from it. Tell her the psychology of lying (like I explained earlier), and about the feelings associated with lying. Make all of this really brief and loving. No lectures! Then simply ask, "Do you want to stop lying?" Let her talk a lot and have a natural conversation about it. Encourage her to ask you questions that she wants answers to as well. Tell her what your plan is to help her with her honesty issues. Agree upon it together. Pray for help with the plan. 

2) Implement negative consequences for dishonesty.

Second, you have to establish a negative consequence for dishonesty. Ours is 30 minutes of honest work. I check it off to make sure it was done honestly. You'll need to decide what would be most motivating for your daughter.

NOTE:  Sometimes you really won't be able to tell if she was dishonest or not. I don't like giving negative consequences when someone wasn't really dishonest, because this can encourage lying. BUT, if you don't catch everything, you could also be reinforcing a lie. This could be worse. She needs to know that if you feel she isn't being truthful or doing something dishonest, even if you can't prove it, she'll earn a negative consequence. She's addicted to dishonest behaviors, so you have to assume the worst until you've seen her demonstrate she's able to control her impulse to choose dishonesty. Explain this to her. Also, don't ever show excitement about telling her she earned a negative consequence.  Make sure you always show her you are disappointed, but you know she will get it soon.

3) Establish positive consequences for honesty.

Choose a positive consequence for being honest! What motivates her? Have an honesty tally sheet. If she communicates honestly, whether in a talking session or when questioned or in actions, she earns a mark and lots of praise. If she earns a lot of marks in the day, then she earns some type of reward (a snack, extra play time, a walk with mommy or daddy, etc. This is a great system.  You have complete control over this. If you see she's really trying to communicate honestly that day and she doesn't have enough marks yet, then you can come to her and say that you want to do some honesty practice for marks. Ask her questions and reward her for her honest statements. The idea is to focus more on having positive honesty interactions than negative dishonesty interactions. Positive motivates!

Do SODAS daily for a while; oral and written. All the SODAS should be honesty ones. She should get a certain amount of marks for these. Then she'll look forward to problem solving this behavior more.   

Teach her the exact steps to communicating honestly, Controlling the Impulse to steal and explain how following instructions is also honesty. 

Communicating Honestly: Someone asks you a question

  1. Stop and think about what the honest answer to the question is.
  2. Mentally tell yourself to say the honest statement.
  3. Speak honestly.
  4. Report your honest statement to your parent for praise.

Controlling the Impulse to Steal: You feel you want something

  1. Recognize that you're wanting to take something.
  2. Stop looking at the object and walk away from it. 
  3. Tell yourself that you have power because you walked away.
  4. Report to your parent about how you resisted the temptation to steal, and receive praise for doing so.

Role play both of these behaviors, as well as following instructions, with your child.  Setting a time daily for reporting on her honesty progress is also a good idea. It allows time for praise as well as re-dedication. 

Lastly, remember to pull her aside when you feel she's weak. Kneel with her in pray. Pour your heart out to the Lord on her behalf. Let her understand who she has to answer to and who will give her strength in governing this behavior. You don't need to say these things as much as just show her through your humble prayers.

It's very normal with a behavior like dishonesty to conquer it and then have relapses. Don't feel like she forgot everything you did if she returns to this negative. It's an addiction. It feels comfortable after a while, and the draw can be great at times. Just regroup and return to teaching it again. Learning to govern your own behaviors is a "bit-by-bit" type of process. We have to be patient and persistent. 

To anyone who hasn't had problems with dishonesty yet: Just remember to keep your tolerances low and always keep the possibility in the back of your mind that a child may not be honest. It doesn't do our child good to be blind parents. Questioning behaviors in your mind is a good habit to get into so that you don't inadvertently feed a negative behavior. 

God Bless You!  

Nicholeen