How We Teach Our Kids to Lie

My five-year-old daughter was looking out the window, fidgeting with the tassel on her shirt when I came into the living room. Her back was turned to the shards of my favorite vase, a delicate gift from a dear friend from Italy, broken on the floor behind her. The crash had brought me running.

“Leah, what happened?”

“I dunno.”

“How did the vase get broken?”

She shrugged her shoulders.

“Leah, did you break Mama’s vase?”


Gathering all of the newly acquired parenting skills I had, I kneeled down in front of her, took her hands in mine, looked into her eyes and with a gentle voice asked, “Leah, did you maybe break the vase just a little bit?” Her bright blue eyes turned to me as she nodded and said, “maybe a little.”

That scene alone had taken me almost 15 years of work to accomplish… no yelling on my part, no accusations. Instead, I had a true desire to know what had happened and to engage with my daughter in a non-confronting way. That was not how I had been trained watching my parents parent me. That was very new behaviour for me. Nonetheless, that was only the beginning of a big change to come…

After cleaning up the mess, I realized I was more disturbed by her choice to lie to me than about the discarded physical object. Already at her age, I thought, she had seen the practical usefulness of not taking responsibility, of resisting the discomfort that comes with facing up to the messes we make and owning them in front of others. Moreover, I was dismayed to know that the openness I so wanted to have with my children, and thought I had been grooming so well, was already compromised. I’d never had that mutual trust with my own parents and had learned the hard way that only trust builds the solid ground for a healthy relationship. But why was my small child already lying? And, more importantly, what could I do to assure that we got onto that solid ground of trust and openness between us, no matter what?

So, I did something my parents would have never done: I asked my daughter. A few days later, swaying below towering trees on the long ropes of our garden swings, I ventured, “Leah, remember when the vase broke?” A very long silence was then broken by her “Yes.” “Why didn’t you tell me the truth right away when I asked, that you had broken the vase?” “Because, Mama”, she answered with piercing eyes, “when I tell the truth, you get angry and I don’t like that.”

Leave it to a child to nail it on the head. That’s simply so logical. After some thinking on my slower adult-brain part I said, “Ok, I get that. So how about we make a deal? From now on, and no matter what, you tell me the truth and I promise I won’t get angry. What do you think?” She promptly answered, obviously relieved, “Ok, Mama.” and swung higher, having clearly finished that topic of conversation. Trust me, she got the easier part of that deal!

And so began my quest to resolve the anger I had used for decades as my protection, my favorite tool and, all too often, as a weapon. This was no easy quest. Not only had I made that promise to my daughter, but I realized stepping into that process that my anger had become my alter-ego. I motivated myself, and others, with my anger. I scared people away, got what I wanted and controlled circumstances with either the threat of my anger or the expression of my it. And, I was truly tired of it, truly done with it. Yet, to change it was a major mountain before me.

So, I schooled myself with all I could read. I became a student of myself, studying my ingrained pattern of coming from anger, expressed or not, when I didn’t get what I wanted, when something bothered me, when I was having a totally justified (in my mind that is) full-blown adult temper tantrum. I came to realize that anger was an expression of my feeling of helplessness and not at all the stance of power I had thought it was. Wow. What an eye-opener.

It took me a long time, and both of my kids were more than happy to be my teachers; but I did it. I transformed that anger pattern into ease. In the process, my daughter and I both kept the bargain we made that day and I, for one, am a much better person for it.

Recently I was out of town on a business trip, leaving my now 17 year-old-daughter at home alone. Our house rule is that no guests are allowed in the house when I’m gone. In telling an acquaintance on that trip about the situation, he smirked that I would actually be so naïve as to believe my daughter wouldn’t be having friends over, insisting she was rather having wild parties while I was gone. I told him that she has no reason to do so behind my back, that we have agreements that we both have worked out and understand. That if she wanted to do a party like that we’d figure out a way to make it work. That we already had all the cards of alcohol, sex, relationships and drugs on the table whenever we discuss things or make such decisions together.

But my colleague wouldn’t have any of it. In his world, no child-parent relationship could have that kind of authentic and honest communication. “It’s just not possible. It’s not even natural”, he insisted. Actually, that level of trust between a parent and child is very natural, I replied. It’s just not the norm. How sad, I thought, that his default is distrust in his own child. And how sad is it that his child most likely has distrust as a default as well.

So, I ask you, dear reader: where do your thoughts go when you read this? What role does anger play in your life, and in your relationships? How do you use it? How much trust have you built with your child? How much do you think they trust you? And, if things are not where you want them to be, what could you do to create the level of trust and ease of heart in yourself, and with your child, that you truly want? Just notice any possible wiggle of discomfort you may feel reading this now. Let me know your thoughts…

All good wishes,

Leeza Carlone Steindorf Speaker – Trainer – Mediator – Coach
Author of Connected Parent, Empowered Child: Five Keys to Raising Happy, Confident, Responsible Kids – A CORE SuccessTM Guide

Contact Leeza at

Leeza Carlone Steindorf is a communication, conflict resolution and parenting skills expert, international consultant and speaker. She’s founder and director of CORE Success, and the training program of the same name that uses proven, practical tools and insights to achieve one’s goals, no matter the circumstances. She’s the author of “Connected Parent, Empowered Child: Five Keys to Raising Happy, Confident, Responsible Kids” and “CORE SuccessTM for Schools: The Practical Guide Book for a Positive School Climate.” Contact her at +1 (503) 662-8488;

One thought on “How We Teach Our Kids to Lie

  1. Jennifer Diallo says:

    The part about your 17-year old daughter reminded me of a conversation my 21-year old son and I had s few years ago. He was with his uncles (my brothers) at a family reunion and they were talking about how now that he was 21, he was free to drink and do all the things he had never been able to do because I was so strict. They assumed the reason he was such a “Boy Scout” was because I was closely controlling his life. My son was quite angry that his uncles talked about me so negatively. He said, “They just aren’t capable of understanding that you’ve taught me to make good choices and that we have a good relationship and can talk about stuff like that.” My son never lied to me and I totally trusted him because we had that kind of communication, trust, and care for each other always. Many people scoffed and thought I was naive to trust him so much, but I was never disappointed in him. My family’s D many of my friends think our relationship is unusual. We think it’s kind of sad that communication and genuine trust are considered unusual.


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