Inside: In this article I share with you some tips on How to Handle When Your Distracted Child Has Made Dishonesty a Habit. This information helped me shift my perspective so that I could equip my son with tools on how to handle his distraction and impulsiveness so he can learn to value honesty.
I have not polled 100’s of parents with impulsive and distracted kids but as a counselor and from my observations, children who are impulsive and distracted lie more often than not because they are not thinking through their response.
As you know our kid’s brains are immature and still lack the complete ability to control their impulsiveness. Their prefrontal cortex is not fully developed. So impulsiveness is something we should expect from our children. But there are children who struggle with impulsivity and distraction at a whole different level and this article is geared towards the latter group of children.
It’s taken me years to figure this tidbit out so I’m excited to share it with you because it helped me as a parent. So if you have children who fall in the latter category you can thank me later or just repay me with Starbucks gift cards for saving you from banging your head on the wall and asking, “Why does he continue to lie?”
Up until recently I saw it as a character flaw in my son. In my frustration with the constant lies I haven’t always handled his behavior very well. But thank God for his perfect work in our children, in spite of us.
I am confident of this my God is faithful! He will do His perfect work that He began in my child in spite of my imperfect parenting.”
After another night of feeling like a complete failure at parenting I began to think through his habits and so I began to observe him more regularly. I tried to find a pattern for the cause and what led up to his dishonesty and finally something clicked–his distraction and his impulsivity have a lot to do with this particular habit. He’s doesn’t have ADHD, but he is a very distracted child. He’s also very intelligent so many times I assume he’s manipulating a situation when he chooses to lie.
So I began to ponder this question–
Can this lying be more than a heart issue?
Before I continue I want you to know this information is not to offer excuses for his actions because regardless of why he does it, he is still being dishonest. He still needs guidance and consequences but this piece of information really helped me understand where he’s coming from. It also helped me handle the situations a bit differently as I shifted my perspective to see the other side of what was going on.
To see that my son wasn’t always scheming up a plan to lie but something else was going on.
This is a typical scenario at our house– I ask him to go clean his room. He goes to his room and starts making his bed. In the middle of making his bed he sees a toy underneath his pillow so he starts playing with it. (Here he’s distracted.) I call him down because breakfast is ready and he comes running down and I ask, “Did you make your bed like I asked you?” He quickly responds, “Yes!” (Here’s his impulsiveness.) He didn’t even think about it, he just answered and it was a lie. (The bad habit we need to break.)
Later I go upstairs to check his room and guess what? His bed is only made half way. Earlier when I called, he was in the middle of making his bed but prior to this he had stopped to play with the “new” toy he discovered under his pillow.
In my frustration, I’d respond to his lie with this, “Why would you lie when you clearly knew that you didn’t finish making your bed? You will get a consequence for disobeying and lying.”
What happened here? When he found that toy, he completely forgot why he was up there in the first place. Sometimes he honestly can’t remember what I asked him to do because he got so distracted. So, impulsively, he responds–Yes, I did clean my room.
This impulsiveness and distractibility also happens with questions like, “Did you hit your brother?” And his quick response is, “No.” (impulsiveness) So, I respond with, “Well, why is he crying and yelling that you hit him?” He answers, “I don’t know.” (turns into lying)
Do you see how the distractibility and impulsiveness comes into play with the lying? There are times when he is outright lying and we have to be discerning in knowing what is going on.
How to Handle When Your Distracted Child Has Made Dishonesty a Habit
Once we started noticing this pattern of impulsiveness and distraction I thought–Why didn’t I see it before? This piece of information helped us handle the lying and the consequences in a different way. No, you don’t ignore it now and write it off as–He’s just a distracted child.
Please hear me out, we don’t ignore the lying now that we have this extra piece of information, but we are able to handle it differently. My job as a parent is to equip our son with tools so on his own he can begin changing his patterns and to help him value honesty and trust in a relationship.
Using the example above, with cleaning his room. This is how we handled it in light of our new information. Here’s what we did differently.
So when I call him down after having asked him to make his bed, I’ll now say something different. We start with a specific question: “Did you make your bed and pull out your sheets from under it like we’ve showed you?” and we quickly follow it up with:
Stop and think! This makes all the difference for him. We’ll say, “Remember son we need you to think about this before you answer.” Now that we’ve been doing this for awhile we can just say, “Stop and think!” and he knows exactly what we mean. More often than not, he’ll say, “Let me think. Give me a second. I’ll go check.” At this point in the game, we mostly have to remind him to stop and think before replying. But I am thankful for the break throughs where he does stops himself! My hope is that the more he practices this he will begin to develop a pattern so he can do this on his own.
Do over! Sometimes our son will blurt out an answer and before he knows it–he’s lied. Again we are seeing some break throughs where he will stop himself in his tracks. He’ll impulsively say, “Yes, I made myyyyy…” and then he’ll stop himself at mid sentence and say, “Oh, wait I didn’t.”
When he doesn’t stop himself, we have a “Do over!” We’ll say, “Hey bud let’s try this over again and this time I want you to think before you answer. In the past, we would immediately go straight to drilling him for being dishonest.
Note, after we’ve done “stop and think” and “do over” and he continues in his lie we approach this differently.
Prayer and Praise! Praise your child immediately when you see improvement with their honesty. Last year, we made a “Trust-o-Meter” which we used when he lost our trust for lying. We would fill a zip-lic bag with pom-poms so he can physically see his improvement and it also served as a reminder to us to praise him in the midst of the improvement.
I have spent many a night praying and asking God to guide me in knowing how to help and encourage our son. One night I realized I needed to pray that the Holy Spirit would work in his heart. Though the cause can be your child’s impulsiveness and distractibility it can quickly become a heart issue (not always) and we need discernment.
As a mom I constantly need to come before my Heavenly Father to ask for wisdom and discernment.
As a faith-based family we do ask our son to spend some time thinking about what he’s done. Specifically who he needs to apologize to and to then apologize. I encourage him to pray before I step in to guide him.
Here’s one of my favorite articles: In 3 Simple Steps Create a Family Mission Statement and 20 Fun things Moms Can do Alone
What have you discovered in your distracted child that is leading to dishonesty?