Kids are liars.
I know that they’re kids and we should give them some grace. They’re learning and figuring stuff out and all that. But that doesn’t make them not liars. It’s what they do.
I remember lying constantly when I was a kid. About stupid crap. I didn’t even need to lie and yet there I was, telling all the lies in the world. I remember my mom talking to me about trust and how it is so hard to rebuild when it’s broken. I was maybe 6 years old and even then, my only thought was,
Well, I have told a LOT of lies and I am 100% positive I could not make it long enough without lying to fully rebuild trust. So I guess this is how it’s gonna be.
Then I put my nose to the grindstone to become a better liar because nothing’s worth doing if you don’t do it well. I may not have listened to my mom about honesty, but I heard her when she yammered about a solid work ethic. (Thanks, Mom!)
I am now a mother. My daughter is 2 and not old enough to lie. This is great except when I ask her things like “Who do you love the most,” and she yells the dog’s name with way too much enthusiasm.
My son is almost 5 and is getting his toes quite wet while testing the waters of what he can and can’t get away with. The lies aren’t constant, but they’re frequent and low quality so I know when he’s trying to get one past me.
The little lies don’t really bother me much. If I ask him what he learned at preschool and he tells me nothing or that he doesn’t know, I let it be. When he tells me he doesn’t have to go to the bathroom– even when he is breakdancing across my house in an effort to hold his urine– I don’t punish him. I just tell him to get his butt to the bathroom. Kids are liars and they’re going to lie so I mostly expect it and let him think he’s slick on occasion.
But tonight, my son was complaining of a headache. He’s not even 5 so I don’t know what on earth could be giving him a headache. All my headaches stem from stressors like my house being a hamster cage and my kids fighting and financial minutia and forgetting to stock my fridge with booze. He leads a cushy life and has no known medical issues that would make a headache normal for a 4-year-old. So if he has a headache, that is cause for me to worry.
He wasn’t acting like he had a headache, aside from an occasional exaggerated wince. Sometimes a grunt accompanied by rubbing his skull and verbally reminding his father and me that his head hurt. I took some time to explain to him how important it is to not lie about being sick. Medicine can be bad for you if you aren’t sick. It will make it harder for me to believe him when he is really, truly sick. Nevertheless, he insisted. His head hurt. My husband and I were still unsure.
I was going through a myriad of scenarios for the night in my head. Situations ranging from giving my son a dose of ibuprofen to ending up panicked in the emergency room swirled around in my mind. When you’re not sure about what’s wrong with your child, your thoughts go everywhere. It’s one of my least favorite aspects of motherhood. As I weighed whether or not I needed to ring the on-call doctor at our pediatrician’s office on this super-convenient holiday weekend, my son asked for dessert.
And just like that, my BS detector started beeping and I had my answer. But I didn’t want to just call him out on lying. As a humongous liar (in my youth; I am now, of course, a saint) I knew that he would only double down and commit to the lie before admitting defeat. So I pulled a trick out of my parenting tool box that a friend told me about not too long ago.
I took a deep breath, put on the best disappointed face a mom can muster, and asked my son to brush his hair away from his forehead. Then I told him to look me in the eye and tell me if his head hurt.
He obliged and said that it did with an impressive amount of conviction.
I sighed. It was a really good sigh. I’ve mastered the art of the sigh since becoming a parent. They’re useful in a lot of ways. Especially in signaling to your offspring that they better get comfortable because they are about to hear a lot of words and none of them are going to be pleasant. If I really show some effort (again with that impeccable work ethic) by the time my kids are in their teens, I’ll have it made. They’ll immediately apologize and beg for forgiveness when I let out a sigh just to avoid the lecture they know will follow.
After inspecting his forehead closely and making sure my disappointment was shining out of every orifice, I told my son about The Lying Spot.
The Lying Spot is a bright red spot that appears on the forehead of any child telling a lie. Only parents can see it. I told him we don’t usually tell kids about The Lying Spot because we want them to be good for goodness sake, not because they know they’re going to get caught. We can only see it if we are looking the kid in the eye when they’re lying.
I asked him if he knew what I had seen on his forehead. He said he didn’t know, but “not a Lying Spot.”
I have to admit, that was ballsy. He knew, at least a little, that he was caught. But he decided to call my bluff to see if there was still a way for him to win this game.
There was not.
After turning to squarely face my son, I instructed him to look me in the eyes and repeat after me. I had him say his name, then I glanced up at his forehead. I had him say his age, then I glanced up at his forehead. I had him say that his favorite color is pink (his favorite color is blue) and I saw it in his face that he knew he was busted. He tried to argue but soon had to give in and say– out loud and looking his mother dead in the eye– that his favorite color is pink. Then I glanced up at his forehead and nodded my head. “There it is,” I said. “Now I know it’s working.”
As I asked my 4-year-old if he had a headache, he looked away to break eye contact. I told him to look at me and asked him again.
“Oh, uh, um, I really can’t talk right now, Mommy.”
Seconds later, I had a confession. I almost dug out a yellow legal pad so he could write it down. There was what most would probably consider an absurd amount of pride bubbling up inside me for having just outsmarted a preschooler. In my defense, he’s almost a kindergartener and he’s really smart. Much to my chagrin, he will likely figure out that I too am a lying liar. The Lying Dot will outlive its usefulness before long.
And I’ll just think of a new lie to combat the lies of my child. With my decades of experience, it shouldn’t be difficult.