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Raising Children Topics..

You are here : home > Raising Children > Behavioral Problems > Does Your Child Lie - II

Does Your Child Lie - II

- Deb from Jersey

Read what Deb from Jersey has to share with other parents on this topic.

Children lie for different reasons at different ages. Very young children may not yet be able to always distinguish fantasy from reality. When Mikey spins a fantastic story about a pillow that flies around his room, he is not actually attempting to deceive. More likely, Mikey has a very active imagination and cannot always tell the difference between what he imagined and what really happened. Children this age may also appear to lie because they have honestly forgotten things. When a 2 year-old is accused of putting a roll of toilet paper in the toilet and she claims she didn't do it, she may simply not remember doing it, especially if it wasn't discovered for several hours.

At around the age of 5 or 6 children start to develop a more consistent understanding of the difference between fantasy and reality and are less likely to insist on the truth of their imaginings. Around this age, a child begins to develop a conscience and understand that certain behaviors may disappoint his or her parents. He or she may also begin to experience feelings of guilt associated with misdeeds. For the first time, the child may construct a lie in an attempt to avoid punishment and/or disapproval. Children this age may also tell fibs or exaggerate extensively in order to get their parents' attention.

By the age of 7 or 8, most children have learned to tell the difference between fantasy and reality and can usually be counted on to tell the truth. The most common reasons for children to lie at this age are to avoid being punished, or to avoid doing something unpleasant like emptying the trash. Children may also begin to grasp the concept of polite social lying around this age. They may pretend to like the knitted socks that Grandma gave them for their birthday, or compliment a friend's new haircut even though they think it looks ridiculous. Altruistic lies to protect others from harm may be told as well. Lies at this age may also be a cry for help. Children who are very fearful of disappointing their parents and are feeling overwhelmed by school or some other area of their lives, may lie in an attempt to deal with this pressure.

By adolescence, lying begins to take on a new significance and parents are likely to become more alarmed by the lies their adolescents tell. Adolescents clearly understand the difference between fantasy and reality and are aware of the possible consequences of telling lies. They have also become better at it! However, not all lies that an adolescent tells should be taken as a sign that he or she is up to something forbidden. Adolescents may lie simply to protect their privacy, to establish their independence, to avoid embarrassment, or to spare another's feelings. Of course, they may also lie to avoid punishment or doing chores, or to try to get something that they think they may not be able to get by telling the truth.

What Can Parents Do?

The first thing you can do is to teach honesty in the home and be aware of your own standards for lying. In some homes polite social lies are more acceptable than in others. Some parents may inadvertently promote lying by asking their children to lie about their age, or tell a caller that Mom or Dad isn't home. Be aware that children will have a very difficult time seeing the difference between these types of lies and lies they may tell to you. Modeling honest behavior in the home as well as setting up an environment in which it is easy to be truthful may be two of the strongest lie prevention strategies.

Here are a few tips:

  • Whenever possible, keep your word. Always explain and apologize if you must break a promise.
  • If you do find yourself lying in front of your child, be sure to talk about it with him or her and explain your reasons and values surrounding the lie. If you made a mistake by telling a lie, admit it.
  • Do not expect young children to understand the subtle differences between "white lies" and more serious lies.
  • Do not tell your children lies to promote compliance (e.g., telling them that shots won't hurt or that going to the dentist will be fun). Praise truth-telling, especially when it was likely difficult to do.
  • Assume family members are telling the truth unless you have reason to suspect otherwise. Don't overburden your child with too many rules and expectations. The more rules there are, the more likely they are to get broken, and the more likely the child may feel the need to lie to avoid punishment.
  • Involve your children in developing the rules. It is easier to abide by a rule that you had some role in developing.

Even children raised in the most truthful and honest of households will still lie on occasion. When this happens, it is important to remain calm and remember that the lie is not a personal attack, so don't take it as such or give into anger. Review the reasons why a child might lie at any given age and respond accordingly. What a child is trying to hide by lying may be much more important than the lie itself.

Tell your child that you love her, even when she lies. She's not a bad child; rather, it's just her behavior that's unacceptable.

Make sure any consequences for lying are kept separate from the consequences for whatever the lie was designed to conceal. And be careful not to overreact. Remember that children may lie to avoid punishment. Excessive or irrational punishments may backfire. The greater the fear of punishment, the less likely your child is going to "fess up" the next time.

Make it very easy for your child to tell the truth and give him a chance to confess. Don't stage a courtroom drama and try to force a confession.

If your child tells tall tales or lies to get your attention, don't accuse the child of being a liar, but don't pretend like you're not aware of it, either. Make it clear that you don't believe that he ran a mile in less than three minutes, but that you love him anyway. If your child tells a tall tale to someone else and you witness it, don't point it out in front of the other person. Wait until you are alone with your child to discuss it.

Don't accuse. "I wonder how this milk got spilled -- I wish someone would clean it up," is more likely to get an honest response than "Sarah, did you spill this milk?"
Don't try to set your child or adolescent up to tell you a lie when you have discovered the truth. Asking "Where were you Friday night?" when you know Susie was at a party you had forbidden her to attend is a form of dishonesty and deceit just the thing you are trying to avoid! It also encourages Susie to lie, giving her more practice at the very thing you don't want. Further, this tactic places the emphasis on the lie as opposed to the behavior, which may be the more serious problem. If Susie hadn't gone to the party in the first place, there would be no need to lie.

Fables are a great way to teach values to younger children. The Boy Who Cried "Wolf" may be especially effective.

Be sure adolescents are given a fair amount of privacy. This will lessen the likelihood that they will lie just to protect what privacy they have.

How Can You Encourage Truthfulness?

Remember that one of the main motivators for lying is fear of punishment. A lie may feel like the lesser of two evils, and it may improve the chances that the child will get away with whatever transgression they have committed. (And, face it, sometimes they will!) Severe punishment for lying may reinforce the fear of punishment and increase the likelihood of future lying rather than decrease it. Additionally, while the parent may be trying to give the message "You are being punished because you lied", the child is more likely thinking "I'm being punished because I got caught." The child resolves to get better at lying to avoid being caught in the future. Instead of severe punishment, consider a light punishment or a reprimand, and promote the natural and/or logical consequences of dishonest behavior. For example, it may be appropriate that a child who has repeatedly lied about getting her homework done be required to bring a note home from her teacher on a daily basis until trust is restored. This consequence makes sense to the child in light of the behavior you are trying to change. Additionally, promoting the natural or logical consequences of dishonest behavior requires the child to take responsibility for his own behavior. Logical or natural consequences are directly related to the problem behavior and do not carry a moral judgement about the child. Here are few more things to consider when deciding how to deal with a child who has lied:

It is often more effective to tell children how you really feel about their lie than to punish them for it. An honest statement like "I'm really hurt that you lied to me" is likely to have more impact on future lying than a week without television. Further, emphasizing the effect of the lie on others promotes the development of an internalized sense of morality. Help the child explore the effects that lying has on others and on the child's relationships.

Don't make a decision about the consequences of a lie in the heat of the moment. You can let you child know that you are very upset, but that you need time to think about what the consequences should be. However, don't make your child wait for days in dreaded anticipation as you make your "decision". This is just another form of dishonesty and will not do anything to strengthen the shaken bond of trust between you and your child.

Make sure that the consequences for lying don't drag out for so long that your child forgets what brought the consequence on in the first place. A child needs another chance. Be sure that she knows she will get one. However, if the lying is repeated often, it may make sense to extend the length of time before the child is allowed to try again.

When Is Lying a Serious Problem?

Isolated lies here and there don't usually indicate a serious problem. However, when lying becomes habitual or compulsive, and is used as a major strategy for dealing with difficult situations there is cause for concern. Chronic lying may be just a bad habit that a child needs help breaking. However, it may also be a sign that the child can not tell right from wrong. This may especially be the case if your child does not appear to have any remorse about lying. Lying that is accompanied by behaviors such as fighting, stealing, inflicting cruelty, skipping school, or cheating may also be a sign of more serious problems such as conduct disorder or a learning disability. Children with biological conditions such as ADHD may also find it more difficult to control lying behavior. Children may also lie to cover up more serious problems like Substance Abuse. Finally, when older children or adolescents tell tall tales, and overly exaggerate and embellish everyday occurrences, it may signal a serious need for attention. In any of the above cases, seek help from a professional trained to deal with children and/or adolescents.

Link to related articles
Does Your Child Lie?
Lying - How it begins in Children

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Myahh Kardish.5 years ago
my 6 year old son is an extremely smart and a intelligent child. he is prone to lying even when there is no need and the lies are so well fabricated that they seem like the truth. i think that if this habit continues then it might become a serious issue and he can be a habitual liar. can you please guide me as to how i should deal with this issue. from a very worried mother
David Trump.5 years ago
the way out is not to set down extremely rigid rules or standards that your child may or may not be able to live up to so that he can have a happy, healthy childhood without any high pressures or expectations.
holla Heaven.5 years ago
i also believe that every time you encourage your child to tell the truth and reinforce that she will not be reprimanded (it takes a lot of courage to tell the truth ) it works wonders. the trust she begins to develop is great. it works with my daughter. try it.
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