In my newest book, Homeschooling for the Rest of Us (Bethany House, 2010), I talk about outward versus inward obedience. When parents write to ask me questions, one of the most common questions I receive is exactly HOW to train your child to have inward obedience with a cheerful heart versus the outward appearance of obedience when there really is no compliance there.

This is probably the most difficult thing to understand and to enforce as a parent, I think, because we cannot SEE our children's hearts. I will tell you, though, that I do believe this is one of the best reasons to homeschool - you know your children better. I positively KNOW when my children are trying to be deceptive. We haven't ever had an issue with blatant lying, but from time to time they will not tell the whole story (which, yes, we still consider a lie, but they know this and are appropriately punished.) They don't do this very often either, but that's because we've emphasized time and again how bad lying is. I think it's the foundation of sin actually... Satan lied to Adam and Eve. They lied to themselves about the consequences, etc. It's just always best to be truthful.

For younger children, you just have to start NOW in training the child to have inward obedience. As a mom, for the most part, it's very easy to tell when younger children are lying. They might say they didn't take the cookie, but they have chocolate all over their faces. LOL If that happens, you not only have to punish the child, but you also have to discuss with him / her the dangers of lying. What sort of punishment am I talking about? For lying, I think with little children you have to make sure they know what lie is. Certainly by the age of three I think they do. At that point, I would spank a child if he/she lied to me. We do NOT spank for a lot of transgressions, but blatant disobedience or lying will always get you a spanking. And at the same time, I think it's important to encourage them NOT to lie. If our children do something and they tell the TRUTH, they receive an alternate punishment, NOT a spanking - ever. We never want to punish truthfulness. They still have to be punished for the thing they did wrong. Let's say they took that cookie on the counter that you told them not to touch. Well, their punishment might be that they don't get any dessert at dinner when everyone else IS having dessert. Kids even as young as two WILL accept this punishment and they WILL associate it with their own "crime," so to speak. If they told the truth, I think that's sufficient punishment. If they lied, however, and they understand what a lie is, then I think a spanking is in order and still they lose their dessert.

One thing to remember is that good behavior CAN be modeled. Be honest with your children. Of course when they're as young as your children, you can't tell them everything, but as they get older, expose your OWN heart to them. If you yell at them one day for no reason other than you felt bad, take the time to apologize for that. This is something a lot of Christian "leaders" will tell you not to do - don't EVER expose yourself to your child. Don't EVER let them think you're anything but perfect. While I do respect their viewpoint and certainly they have the right to think this, I totally disagree. Only one person who walked this earth was ever perfect and it certainly wasn't me. Children will eventually figure this out anyway and if you have LIED to them by making them think you are perfect, well... this actually creates the exact situation you wanted to avoid, which is that they then think it's ok to deceive people. Once deception starts, it's easier to convince yourself that everything is ok - from your right to HAVE an item (stealing) to your right to listen to bad music, do drugs, have sex, etc.

Practical answers???

- Be truthful WITH your children.
- Expect truth FROM your children.
- Punish your children if they lie.
- Punish your child's sin if they tell the truth, but I recommend not using spanking. Take away privileges for the fact that they did something wrong, but reserve spanking only for lies. If they tell the truth, be willing to give a little.
- Read stories of people who do bad things and suffer bad consequences, who make good choices in various situations, who model GOOD behavior (character building stories). - Point out examples of bad behavior when you can. If you see a child at the supermarket screaming and kicking because he WANTS THAT TOY!!!!, point the behavior out to your children. Ask them what's wrong with the picture. Let THEM learn to see these things for themselves rather than YOU telling them - don't yell and kick at the supermarket (or anywhere else). They might say something like, "That boy is being loud and rude." Then you can say, "That's right. Why shouldn't he do that?" ... It's disturbing other customers. He is disrespecting his mom / dad. He is yelling for a toy, but it will probably break in a week anyway and it certainly is NOT worth getting that upset over. : ) You get the idea. Let THEM come up with ideas and then add in some that they might miss. - PRAISE your children for good choices.
- Model good behavior. You probably don't smoke, but some parents do. Their children are very likely to smoke. The "do as I say and not as I do" doesn't work well with kids. Do as you would like for them to do.
- Serve others and allow your children time to serve others as well. Allow older siblings to help with younger ones, but certainly do NOT expect them to be your little babysitters. (I say this because I've seen parents do this and it seems to create animosity. I am NOT talking about the buddy system. That's a great way to encourage relationships and also to have older children and teens develop the ability to help with younger children so that they will be better prepared for their own families. I'm talking about when parents just constantly expect the older sibling to occupy the younger one so that mom/dad can be on the computer, cell phone, etc. THAT creates animosity toward the younger sibling and the parent.)
- Encourage your children to play together and play WITH them. This gives you an opportunity to point out behaviors as they happen, not later, through second-hand tattling. Of course you can't always be right there, but definitely I think parents should be with young children as much as possible. If you can instill the values while they are little, then your life will be MUCH easier when they are bigger. - Read GOOD books to your children. Watch GOOD quality movies w/ your children. Make sure your children have access to friends, but friends with parents who have similar values to yours. If they let their child run around and hit other kids in the head during the whole play date, it's likely that your child will go home and bonk a younger sibling in the head.

While most of these practical tips may sound like discipline issues rather than "heart" issues, it all ties very closely together. If you focus on discipline and obedience when your children are younger, then it's much easier to KNOW your child and also to redirect him/her as the child grows older. This in itself will help you and your child have the kind of relationship where you can redirect his/her heart. If your child knows he can trust you, for example, to be fair, then he is more likely to tell the truth. If your child does not trust you, he is a lot more likely to try to hide the truth, get away with sneaky behavior, allow his friends (or the tv or computer or whatever) to become his main source of advice, etc. All of those things can cause huge problems and certainly they're focused on outward behavior. So the single best thing you can do to encourage inward obedience with a cheerful attitude is to KNOW your child. Encourage him when he makes good choices and punish him appropriately (not unfairly or overly so) when he makes bad choices (knowingly). I would never punish a child simply for childish behavior or "mistakes," such as spilling a glass of milk on the floor. Now if he threw it across the room, that would be different, but I think too many parents yell at their children when they have accidents and this only serves to tear down the relationship so that the child no longer trusts that adult.

You must also focus on LOVE. When I talk about developing a relationship with your child, I'm not only talking about spending time with that child, but you are showing the child that you can be trusted, that you LOVE him, that you are there for him. Too many parents are just ... well, just not "present" today. They're too busy with their own activities, their own concerns, their worries, their games, their chat rooms, etc. I believe everyone sees time as love to an extent, but certainly children do. If you do not take the TIME to show them you LOVE them, then you will lose this in your relationship. The best way to develop trust and thus have the authority to direct their hearts when they're having a difficult time and making tough choices is by establishing a firm foundation in the relationship.

As for resources, the best resource I know that actually addresses this particular issue is Educating the WholeHearted Child, by Clay and Sally Clarkson. I found it early in my homeschooling journey and I'm so thankful for that.

So to summarize how to encourage inward obedience, spend the first few years of your child's life focusing on discipline and obedience - "slow obedience is NOT obedience." Praise your child for good choices and talk with him or her in areas where the child is struggling. Be honest with your child. LOVE your child. Spend time with your child. Expose your child to positive FRIENDSHIPS and others whom you trust to also help your child develop the values you want to instill in your child.

If you have questions, please feel free to e-mail me at If you're interested in the book, it's available through local bookstores and online at places like Amazon.


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Comment by Asa D. Crandall on September 17, 2010 at 11:58am
Very good thoughts here. To go a little farther with these thoughts, there are many a parent who have no common sense of parenting. Many parents in my church constantly comment how well my children behave in church by sitting still for the whole service. They constantly tell me that they cannot make their children behave. I ask them, "You cannot or will not make them behave?" It just upsets me when a child can sit for 2.5 hours watching a movie, but they cannot sit for less than an hour for a service. It is a sad sad commentary on parenting
Comment by Sonya Haskins on September 16, 2010 at 4:44am
Someone on my Facebook page asked about how to respond to a teen/preteen lying. My response is basically a long follow-up message that adds to the above article. I hope some of you might find it beneficial.

I wouldn't hesitate to spank a preteen for lying. Generally I think spanking should be reserved for younger children and direct disobedience, but there are circumstances where I do think it's appropriate to spank a preteen for (I probably would not spank a teenager. At that point, I think there are other things you can do and besides, I believe they are accountable for themselves at that age and you have to appeal to them in a different way. Biblically I think teenagers are adults and not only should be treated as such, but should have appropriate consequences, which do NOT include spanking, but might include a breech of trust, for example. If you can't trust him/her and the child asks to do something that involves trust (like going somewhere with a friend), well, the answer would be NO until that child can regain your trust.

I would also keep the following in mind...

First, WHY is the child lying? Is he afraid he is going to get in TROUBLE? We've always made it VERY clear to our kids that they'll get in a whole heck of a lot more trouble if they lie. Make it to their advantage to tell you the truth. : ) If parents haven't done this in the past, I don't think it's ever too late to start. Just have a chat w/ your children, lay the new ground rules and go from there.

Second, WHEN is the child lying? Does he/she lie more to mom or dad or when siblings / friends are present, etc.? Try to make note of this and avoid that situation.

Many parents put their children on the spot and for some kids, they just speak before they think. Give your kids an opportunity to THINK about what they want to say and then answer your question. For example, if you think your child did something and you go to them and say, "Did you do this?!?" A lot of children will lie automatically. If you go to them and say, "You know... I want to talk with you about something, but I do NOT want you to answer right now. Since you've had some difficulty with being honest lately (be honest with them about this!!), I think it would be best if you let me ask you this question and then you sit here and think about it for a few minutes. I will come back in about five minutes, unless you would like to come to me first, and ask you again. What I'm wondering about is whether you hit your brother. If you tell me the truth, you will NOT be punished, but you will still have to apologize and make restitution (always - an apology and restitution are NOT negotiable). If you lie about it and I find out that you've lied, you will not only receive a spanking (younger kids), but you will also lose your computer and tv time for a week."

Finally, I think some parents forget to approach children with a kind tone in a non-aggressive manner. Be gentle. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Even if you KNOW they did it (as parents often do), give them the opportunity to be HONEST with you, confess their sins, and ask forgiveness. This will create a better relationship than if the parent automatically accuses the child, which many parents do when they already know if the child did it. Even children respond defensively when parents do this... like most adults would.

Those are mostly more tips on avoiding the lying in the first place. I just think prevention is much better than punishment after the fact. And truly, I believe that if you do most of these things, the lying will be reduced. I'm not saying that no kid will lie, but certainly we've found even with other children who stay with us who lie a lot, they tend not to lie when we present them with these options. They LIKE to be in control of their own destiny. If you let THEM choose whether to be punished or not punished, most will choose not to lie about something.

Now, with all that said ... let's say you KNOW your child did something because you have the evidence. Let's say you told them not to get on the computer, but you go to the history and find out that they were on the computer and to top it off, they were on a bad website! You ask them about it, give them time to think about their answer, and then they STILL lie to you. If they were younger, I'd spank them. Regardless of age, I would show them the evidence - pull up the history. Show them that you KNOW they were on it. (And be sure no one else had access to the computer in your home. Make sure your dh or no one else accessed that computer.) Then see what they say. Regardless of what they say, if you know they did it, punishment is necessary. For something like that, I would not allow them to be on the computer for at least a week. If they were on a "bad" website, I wouldn't let them on for a MONTH! I'm not kidding. And even then, I would make sure the parent did their part, too - putting safety controls on computer, etc. And then monitor computer time. You don't want your child developing an addition to something like pornography just because the parent didn't want to take the time to address the issue. (And of course I'm not talking about YOU. I know you would address it.)

Basically just as you would for any transgression, try to make the punishment fit the "crime" as much as possible. If they've lied about getting on the computer, then don't allow them access t...o the computer. If they lie about completing chores, give them extra chores - an unpleasant one! If they lie about where they are going, then they have to have a parent or other trustworthy escort in the future until you trust them again. If their lies are about basic stuff - who drank the last milk and put the container back in the fridge or who took someone's candy, etc. ... generally on these types of issues, I think the child lies because the parent has overreacted in the past. Let him/her KNOW that you are NOT going to do that!!!

Yesterday I opened the fridge and there was a gallon of milk in there. I pulled it out to mash potatoes and there was not even a DROP of milk in the container. I yelled out to the children and said, "Guys, who just drank all the milk and put the empty container back in the fridge?!?" Christopher came in the kitchen and said he had done that. He was HONEST. He told the TRUTH. Rather than go into a tirade about how irresponsible that was, how he shouldn't do that, etc., I just gently reminded him that it's best if he takes it out to the trash can and then... well, I had him TAKE IT OUT to the trash can! In other words, he had to do what he was trying to avoid in the first place, but no amount of yelling or no punishment would have made a difference as much as simply letting him do what he should have done to begin with. I think parents just get worked up over ridiculous things sometimes and if they'd just remember what it's like to be a kid and encourage their children rather than tearing them down, we'd all be a lot happier.

So my answer to your question... in addition to all the things I said above (LOL!!)... is to try and find the reason they are lying. Praise them when they tell the truth. Ensure them that you will punish them either way, but the punishment will be much worse if they lie about it. And then make sure you follow through with what you've said. Do not punish them as severely if they do tell the truth. Sometimes it takes kids a while to develop that trust again. Much of this depends on why they are lying so I would definitely consider all the issues I said in the last post - situation, previous punishments, person they're talking to, etc. WHY are they lying to you???

If this is something you'd rather discuss more privately, feel free to e-mail me. Otherwise, I hope these more detailed answers have helped you a little more.

Sonya : )

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