There are very few things that I have a hard time forgiving, the top two things I struggle to forgive are Stealing and Lying. The reason I have such a hard time forgiving these two things are that they both deal with trust. When you steal from me how can I trust you? When you are constantly lying to me how can I trust you? It is impossible. Trust is the core of every relationship, it is the first stage in Erikson's eight stages of man and without trust you cannot have a relationship.
With all of this being said, I do not have a hard time forgiving a child who lies or steals because every child goes through a lying/stealing phase, and the length and severity of the phase depends on us as adults! Now when an adult lies to me it is an entirely different situation because they are adults and know better!
When it comes to lying the main thing to remember is that people lie to protect themselves. They lie because they don't want to get in trouble, they don't want you to judge them, they don't want you to dislike them, etc. When it comes to kids it is important to realize that kids will lie to get out of trouble, especially when parents over discipline and punish extreme regardless of whether or not the child is honest! Take the following scenario for example:
Cassie got into mom's make-up and made a huge mess and completely ruined her lipstick, she knows she isn't supposed to get into mom's make-up without asking so she tries her best to clean it up which only makes a bigger mess so she leaves it and hopes her mom doesn't get too upset. Cassie's mom then goes into her bathroom and sees the mess that is made and becomes very angry, she yells for all of her kids to get in her bathroom and demands to know who made the mess. It is obvious that mom is extremely upset and the kids are afraid of how she is going to react so the natural reaction for them is to lie and act like they do not know who did it. Eventually after mom yells and threatens and yells some more Cassie admits to making the mess. Mom is now even more upset that Cassie didn't confess earlier (even though it is completely mom's fault for her not feeling safe enough to confess her wrongdoing) so she punishes Cassie for not only making a mess of her make-up but also for lying to her. Cassie has to clean up the mess, work to earn the money to replace mom's lipstick, write 100 times on a piece of a paper that she will not lie and spend the rest of the day in her room.
Now what are the chances that the next time Cassie's mom asks her if she did something is she going to be honest right away? She isn't because her fears were reinforced and there was no benefit for being honest. Now let's take the same situation and change mom's reaction
Cassie got into mom's make-up and made a huge mess and completely ruined her lipstick, she knows she isn't supposed to get into mom's make-up without asking so she tries her best to clean it up which only makes a bigger mess so she leaves it and hopes her mom doesn't get too upset. Cassie's mom then goes into her bathroom and sees the mess that is made and becomes upset. Mom knows it isn't going to do anyone any good for her to allow her emotions to run rampant and so before she confronts any of the kids she takes a deep breath, counts to ten, and realizes that had she been paying better attention to her kids the mess wouldn't have happened in the first place (after all it is our job as parents to keep an eye on our kids and when we aren't paying attention to them and they make a mess it is partly our fault because well kids are kids and they are going to make messes when unsupervised). She then calls her children into the bathroom and says, "Does anyone know who got into my make-up?" when no one answers mom then says, "I am not mad, I just need to know who made the mess and I promise it will be a lot better for you to be honest about it now than for you to lie to me" (In that one sentence you took care of two of the child's main fears the first being your anger and the second the reassurance that it is better to be honest.) Cassie then admits to making the mess, and mom gets down on her level, looks her in the eyes and says, "Thank you for being honest. Now you know you aren't supposed to get into my make-up without asking, and I am very disappointed that you chose not to ask me first so I need you to help me clean up this mess." Mom and Cassie then work together and clean up the mess.
Now what are the chances that Cassie is going to be honest right away the next time? 100%! Why not, she was thanked for being honest and was only given one consequence that related directly to the crime that was committed. Now for those of you who may be thinking - yeah right like that happens - to those I say, come and spend a day in my house and you will see that happen over and over again. In fact M says to me before she tells the truth, "it will be better if I am honest than if I lie right?" and the answer is always yes. The lying phase in my house lasts at most a week because I constantly reinforce to them that it will be much better for them if they are honest than if they lie.
Now what do I when they lie? I tell them that I am sorry that they chose to lie and I am disappointed in their choice, I then give them their logical consequence for whatever misbehavior there was and then I will add a little more to it that is still in conjunction with the crime because they lied. For example, in the case of the make-up I would say "you now need to clean up this mess and I was going to help you clean it, but because you chose to lie me about it you will now have to clean it up by yourself and I am going to watch you." This way it is still logical and I have stated that because they lied their consequence is worse, but not much worse. They also hear what would have happened had they chosen to be honest. Then when the cleaning gets "hard" I say, "I am so sorry it is hard to clean up, I really wish I could help you, unfortunately you chose to lie to me and so now you have to clean it up all by yourself. Maybe next time you will tell the truth right away and I will be able to help you"
This is all wonderful when you handle the lying right when it begins (which is typically between ages 4 - 6) but what about those of you who didn't know how to handle it and now your kids constantly lie? You need to realize that not only do your kids need to earn your trust BUT they need to earn your trust. You need to do the above suggestion, consistently over and over and over again until they feel safe enough to be honest. Kids lie because they are afraid of your reaction to the truth, so control your reaction and make sure you make a HUGE show of how much you appreciate their honesty every time they are honest, even if they are being honest that they poured all of their legos down the toilet!
The other thing to be aware of is your own level of honesty with them. Are you keeping your word to them? Are you always honest with them? Are you honest with others around them or do they hear you lying to your spouse/friends? Kids will do what they see you do and if they watch you lie then they are going to lie.
Speaking of adults lying - my husband likes to say random things to the kids that make them question if it is true or not, it is always off the wall unimportant stuff but it jacks my kids up and they always look to me to see if dad is telling the truth or not. One night he told the kids that the hamburger for tacos were our dogs - we killed them and used them for the meat, I have no idea why he would think that would be a funny thing to tell the kids, but he did; and of course they looked to me and I told them that daddy was being silly and that it was hamburger not the dogs. So now M tells T all the time . . . "Don't tell naughty lies dad!" He never thought of them as being lies, he thought of it more as being funny and telling stories but to the kids he is lying! Kids are very in tune and very aware of the importance of honesty and lying, especially when it is reinforced the value of being honest!