One of the more frequent concerns I get as a therapist for children is regarding lying and how to handle it. Many parents can get very upset when their children lie, as they place a great deal of importance on honesty. Without knowing why you child is lying it can be difficult to know the best way to handle it.
Why do children lie?
Sometimes children lie to assert their independence and to test boundaries. They may lie to try to understand what will happen if they do break rules. Young children around preschool age, may take an experience that happened to them or a family member and exaggerate or add details from their imagination. At that age, children still have a difficult time understanding the difference between fantasy and reality. Children may also come up with extreme or outlandish lies simply because they are trying to get attention and enjoy the reaction they get when telling lies. It is important to note that most children will lie from time to time and one of the most common reasons for the lying is to avoid a consequence or any kind of trouble.
What should you do?
1. Try to understand why your child is lying.
For example, if your child is lying to avoid consequences for misbehavior, make sure that your consequences are reasonable and not painful or fearful. Remember consequences are designed to teach children to make good choices, but are never to inflict physical or emotional pain. If your child is lying about a certain skill or achievement, such as grades, it may be a result of feeling pressured or inadequate. If you suspect that is the case, offer to help them with school or any other skills they may be working on.
2. Confront your child in a positive way.
When confronting your child about a lie, you want to do so in a positive way. You want to try to point out the truth in a way that does not cause your child to become defensive. For example, if your child is telling a wild tale, say something like, “Wow that is quite the make believe story!” Or if your child is lying to avoid consequence, simply say, “I know that’s not true, let’s focus on the facts, so we can solve this problem.”
3. Follow through with discipline.
Make sure you follow through with discipline when needed. When you find your child lying to get out of a consequence, you can let them know that if do not tell the truth it will result in a loss of two privileges, one for the initial misbehavior and one for not telling the truth. This teaches children that in the future they will receive a lesser consequence when they tell you the truth.
4. Do not panic!
Engaging in a battle of trying to force your child to confess often backfires as many people, even adults, lie when backed into a corner. Try to think of this as a learning opportunity. Asking questions such as, “did you break your sister’s toy?” invites the child to lie. Try a statement such as, “I see you broke your sister’s toy, what can we do about it?” That helps children realize there are other ways to solve the problem.
5. Be a role model.
Finally, remember to model honesty in your own life. Sometimes we teach children that lying is okay without even realizing. For example, letting the children eat sweets and saying something like, “we won’t tell your mother about this.” Often young children do not understand the difference between these lies as others, so remember to model honest behaviors.
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