How often have you asked your child if he has brushed his teeth and he has replied with an enthusiastic “Yes”? And a few minutes later, you walk into the bathroom to discover an extremely dry toothbrush that looks like it hasn’t been used in days. Or, if you ask your child if he has had any candy today and he replies with a vehement “No” and an hour later, you find candy wrappers in his shorts’ pockets.
While it may trouble you the first time you hear your child lying, the truth is that most children tell lies at some point or another.
They tell lies to prevent themselves from getting into trouble, in case they have done something they know they shouldn’t have done. If he lies about brushing his teeth, it’s because he doesn’t want to get in trouble.
They tell lies to get what they want. If your daughter says, “But, Nani gave me the chocolate. I didn’t ask for it.” It’s because she wants to eat the chocolate and knows that you won’t give her permission.
They tell lies to see how you’ll respond and how much they can get away with. “No, the teacher didn’t give us any homework today.” “All my work is complete”.
They tell lies to make their stories sound better or to make them feel good about themselves. “I promise I didn’t hit him. I don’t know why he’s crying. I was just playing with him.”
Children learn to lie at a very early age. They start to realise that their parents don’t actually know everything. And initially, it’s funny because their lying is not very effective. A three-year-old child who vehemently denies eating the chocolates but has chocolate all over her face, can be a cute sight to behold. But, as they get older, they get better at lying and start to realise when to lie and how much they can get away with. By the time they are eight years old, a child can successfully lie to his parents without getting caught.
As children grow older, they learn to tell the difference between what’s true and not true. Our role as parents should be to encourage and support them in telling the truth. Talk to your child about the importance of honesty and telling the truth. For younger children, stories like ‘The boy who cried wolf’ help to illustrate how things can go wrong if you lie all the time.
If your child owns up to doing something wrong, acknowledge her efforts in telling the truth. “I’m glad you told me that you accidentally broke the vase while playing. I’m proud of you for telling me the truth.”
Avoid cornering your child in a way that leads him to lie about a situation. “Why haven’t you done your homework?” A question like this may tempt him to come up with fabricated reasons to avoid getting into trouble. If you know he hasn’t done his homework, try saying “I can see that you haven’t done your homework today. Let’s ensure you finish it before you go down to play.”
If your child likes to make up stories and tell tall tales, it could just be an outlet for her active imagination. Encourage her by helping to contextualise the stories. “That’s a great story. Let’s draw and make a story book about it.” This encourages her to use imagination for storytelling rather than lies.
Some children like to exaggerate and brag about themselves to gain admiration from others. If you find that your child tends to regularly embellish his stories about himself, it could just be a way to get your attention. Make an effort to praise him and his efforts to boost his self-esteem.
‘White lies’ or little lies are usually told to protect someone’s feelings from being hurt. If your child gets a gift, we encourage them to say they liked it even if they didn’t. Or we tell someone that we are busy or out of town because we don’t want to hurt their feelings by refusing their invitation. And as adults, we tend to use little white lies. While white lies are usually harmless, children have a hard time distinguishing white lies from true lies. Avoid telling white lies too much as your child will start to notice. “I can’t buy you candy because I don’t have money in my wallet.” “But, I saw you pay for the milk in the morning.” Your child will get the message that it’s okay to say small lies as long as you aren’t harming anybody. Or she will feel that she can’t trust you to say the truth. Children who are used to hearing lies are more likely to tell lies themselves.
If your child does lie, avoid calling him a liar. Talk about the behaviour but do not label your child. If a child starts to think of himself as a liar, the label sticks. And he starts to believe that if he is a liar, then he might as well keep lying.
Set clear consequences in place for when your child lies. These consequences should be different from the consequences for what they are lying about. If your child broke the window and lied about it, there should be two separate consequences. One consequence for having broken the window and the other consequence for having lied about it. The lesson should be that if you tell the truth, you will still have to deal with the consequences. But, lying only makes it worse.
If your child has started lying a lot, talk about it calmly with her. Tell her how lying makes you feel. Talk to her about the impact that lying can have on her relationships with friends and family. And how she would feel if she was lied to by them.
Try and understand what led him to lie. Is it the fear of a consequence or was he trying to get your attention? Was he trying to get something he wanted? Take some time to talk to your child about his reason for lying and what he could have done instead. By providing your child with alternate options to lying, you teach him what he can do when he finds himself in a similar situation next time.
As with all aspects of parenting, communication is essential. Parenting is a continuous work-in-progress. Praise him for telling you the truth and assure him of your unconditional love, irrespective of his actions. Keep calm and follow through on consequences. By keeping lines of communication open and creating a safe, judgement free environment, you can help your child truthfully navigate his way through life.