Children lie. In their defence, though, everyone lies, so the occasional lie shouldn’t be a cause for concern. When the lies begin to pile up though, so does the frustration. If you find that your little one has made lying their default, there may be cause for concern. Let’s talk about the common reasons why children lie and how to help them gravitate towards telling the truth more.
Why children lie
One of the most obvious reasons why children lie is to avoid punishment. If a child knows that telling the truth will be accompanied by an unpleasant outcome, such as tongue-lashing or even a beating, they default to lying.
Avoid disappointing you
Children hate to disappoint their parents and love to bask in their praise and adoration. They can lie to avoid disappointing you.
Children can also lie if they’re embarrassed about something they did or something that happened.
Children can also tell outlandish tales to try and impress others, especially their friends. This can be for any reason, from attention-seeking to low self-esteem.
Children can lie to avoid responsibility. Think of a child who pretends to need to use the bathroom when you tell them to clear the table/
Children can lie because they’re experimenting to see what they can get away with.
Fantasy and active imagination
Pre-school-age children engage in falsehoods that can’t really be called lies. To lie, you have to know you’re lying. They just combine reality and their imagination and produce a hybrid story that they then present to you.
Some children lie because they get a rush out of getting away with convincing people something false is true. If this is why your child is lying, you should be concerned. It can develop into compulsive lying.
Children can lie for no reason. They can be impulsive and may just do it. Children’s brains are not fully developed, and they’re not known for great judgment.
Children with ADHD are more prone to lying. For example, you tell a child with ADHD to clear their toys, but they forget, and when you ask them, they stubbornly insist you didn’t tell them. The diagnosis doesn’t mean they get a free pass. You have to try and instil a value for honesty as you give them the support they need with their condition.
How to encourage children to tell the truth
Beware of how you respond
Create an environment where children feel safe to be honest by making sure you don’t respond in scary ways when they misbehave. For example, use a calm voice and avoid yelling or punishing them in the heat of anger.
Steer them toward the truth
Avoid asking questions you know the answers to which could make them lie. For example, instead of asking, “Did you finish your homework?” when you know they haven’t, ask, “What are your plans for finishing your homework?”
Give a warning
If you know they’re lying, give them a warning and one final chance to tell you the truth. Reiterate the consequences of lying and give them a chance to come clean.
Provide an extra consequence
Let your child know that if they’re caught lying, there will be an extra consequence for the infraction. For example, if the punishment for their mistake was to take away their electronics, add something extra for the lie, like extra chores. Just make sure you keep it fair and appropriate.
Focus on the feeling
Try to get to the heart of why they felt they couldn’t be honest.
Acknowledge and appreciate honesty
When they tell the truth, encourage them and celebrate that. You could say something like, “Telling me what really happened must have been difficult. I appreciate that. You’re really growing up.”
Talk about it
Talk to your children about why it’s important to tell the truth and the impact that lies can have. Depending on their age, you can explain consequences, like people will stop believing what you say or that people don’t like liars. Also, make sure you communicate the difference between telling the truth and being carelessly brutal.
- Make telling the truth a household rule for everyone (including adults)
- Model truth telling because if there’s one thing you can be sure of, it’s the fact that your children are watching you and will mimic what they see you do
- Seek professional help if you think it’s serious enough to need extra support
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