It’s not uncommon for children of all ages to lie at some point in time as they grow. Children as small as 3-5 years old will make up stories and tell fantastic tales. As kids get older, the will lie to get out of trouble or to escape punishment.
A lie is nothing but “not telling the truth”. Hiding half the information or omitting details and misrepresenting truth are the same as lying. It clearly indicates that the child is not telling the truth.
Kids lying can be a tough time for any parent and you may tend to get frustrated or overwhelmed as a result of their lies. Sometimes, parents tend to overreact when children lie. When parents overreact and take it to heart, they tend to believe that children are not trustworthy, are imperfect. Parents may also wonder where they are going wrong in bringing up their child. This is a very ineffective method of dealing with children and of course will never help them change.
While it is hard to deal with lying, you need to understand that it is a normal part of growing up. When children lie, it means that they are trying to solve their problems in a way that they feel is the best for them. It does not mean that they are being dishonest or unreliable.
Why do children lie?
Children lie for different reasons depending upon their ages. Most often than not, children are more likely to lie fearing how you will respond to them. Here are some reasons why children lie.
- They are unable to differentiate between reality and fantasy: Children between ages 3-5 have not yet developed a clear understanding of the difference between reality and fantasy. They will usually tell interesting tales and will insist that what they have imagined is the truth.
- To escape consequences: Children from 7 onwards are able to clearly distinguish truth from fantasy. They know what a truth is and what a lie is. They are also confused about lying to get out of trouble versus lying to protect someone. However, the most common reason for them lying is to escape punishment or avoid unpleasant consequences.
- Because others do it: Children are great imitators and observers. Nothing escapes their keen sense of observation. If they notice that other children like their older siblings or adults around them lying and getting away with it, chances are that they will also lie.
What can parents do?
To begin with, please do not be surprised or hurt to find your child lying. Instead, prepare yourself to handle this situation. Do not overreact.
Given below are some tips that you can use to help manage this situation.
- Define acceptable and non-acceptable behaviour: Parents need to sit down with their child and explain both acceptable and non-acceptable behaviour. They need to explain to their child about the important of telling the truth, about being honest. Also clearly explain that there will be consequences for lying and explain what those consequences will be.
- Be consistent: While it does take a lot of effort, it is very important for you as parents to stay consistent. If your child lies, then follow up with consequences you have already told them about. This is an ideal way to let your child know that you mean what you say.
- Lead by example: It is very simple, if you don’t lie in front of your children, you child will also not lie. Parents need to set an example by setting their own standards for lying. As the proverb goes, charity begins at home. The first and foremost thing to do is to teach honesty at home.
- Remember, children raised in an honest environment do lie at times, so when such a situation does occur, it is vital to remain calm. Remind yourself that these lies are not personal attacks on you as a parent, and hence do not react in anger. Instead, analyse the reasons as to why your child lied at that age and at that particular situation and respond accordingly.
- Be available for your child: Parents need to examine themselves as well. Sit down and realistically ask yourself if there any reason why your child is not able to tell you the truth. Is your child scared of you or your punishment? While it is important to let your child know that lying is unacceptable, you also need to help your child understand that you are there for them and that you are no tyrant. You need to explain that you love them and have their best interest in mind. They should feel comfortable sharing they fears, joys, dreams and sorrows with you. The more comfortable they are with you, the more open and honest they will be with you.
- Start early: Dealing with lying at an early stage is the most effective way of dealing with it and preventing it from becoming a far more serious issue. Do not wait until your child lies, instead start speaking to them about the importance of being truthful and the results it may produce. Children are more likely to heed to you when they are not on the defensive.
When should parents worry about their child lying?
Parents should worry if your child is lying frequently and consistently. If your child is found to be repeatedly lying, then both the parents and child should consider approaching a child psychologist or a counsellor.
Children with conditions like Attention Deficit and Hyperactive Disease (ADHD) may find it difficult to stop lying. Children who may be under substance abuse may also take up lying to cover their guilt or shame.
Understand that kids lying is not a serious problem in general. Yes it does become a menace when lying turns out to be habitual. Therefore, come up with a strategy to deal with this issue. Plan ahead on how you will deal with your child when he or she is caught lying. Also, as much as possible, try to stay calm and neutral to encourage them to speak the truth. By being very harsh, you may end up building a big barrier between you and your children and they may never open up to you.
Finally, the most important point to remember is that your actions and style of speaking the truth are the right ways to teach your child in being truthful.
Good luck and happy parenting!