What should you do when you sense that your child is lying? Do you feel anxious that your child is turning into a bad kid? Do you have the impulse to make your child admit to the lie and tell the truth, with a sincere apology?
Children lie for many reasons, but the primary reason they start lying is that they don’t know how to deal with a perceived problem. It could be something as small as simply not knowing the answer, to something as big as a fear of being scolded or punished. In other words, in the beginning, children do not have calculated, manipulative intentions to their lies—they simply don’t have adequate problem-solving skills to cope with the situation.
Understand that lying is a milestone in your child’s cognitive development. Try not to overreact to your children’s lies by scolding, lecturing them about being immoral, or threatening them with the possibility of legal consequences later in life. Instead, try to understand why your child is lying, and help them correct the behavior by suggesting better alternatives—without making them feel overly guilty or fearful.
The most important lesson your child should learn is that honesty is the best solution for any problem they face.
Things to consider when you deal with a child who lies
1. A lie doesn’t necessarily mean a bad child
During a child’s development, lying is one of the behaviors they adopt when they can’t find a proper response, or in situations where they don’t know how to react.
So try not to scold your children or punish them for lying. Instead, make sure they understand that lying is not a solution, and that hiding the truth will lose the trust of others—and possibly lead to other consequences in the process.
2. Be honest and upfront with your child
Once you find out that your child has lied to you, let him or her know that you know the truth. This way they won’t add additional lies to cover up their initial deception. Not to mention, concealing from your child that you already know they’ve lied sets a bad example—which could quite possibly break their trust in you.
3. Avoid interrogating your child to find out the truth
If you try to find out the truth by asking your child questions, the mood will become tense and you will more than likely frighten them. Even after finding out that your child has lied, scolding them for being dishonest won’t teach them to be honest next time. It’s much more likely that your child will try to lie more convincingly so you won’t find out and get upset or scold them.
Why your child is lying
1. Unintentional or impulsive lies
Children lie when they aren’t paying attention, out of a desire to go along with what their parents are saying, or when they’re unable to find a quick answer. These aren’t intentional lies, but more a reaction to the pressure of questions they don’t know the answer to, or to avoid unpleasant tasks or borrow more time.
For example, when asked (in the middle of their favorite TV program) whether they have any homework, a child might not remember, but will answer that there was none in order to avoid interrupting their show. In another example, a child might lie about having brushed their teeth, in order to borrow more time for playing.
2. To gain approval
Children might lie when they want to receive attention or praise, but are unable (or unwilling) to meet the requirements for the approval. Here are some examples of things they might lie about in order to gain praise they haven’t earned:
- Getting a good score on a test or game
- Having many friends or knowing someone important
- Being good at something
3. To avoid punishment
Children lie when they are afraid of consequences or punishment related to their wrong behavior or mistakes.
- Lying about who started a fight or broke something
- Lying about finishing their homework
5. Suggest alternative solutions and guide them in the right direction
1) If your child lies impulsively
Remember to give your child time to think about the question before they answer, without rushing them for a response. Also, let them know it’s okay to admit if they don’t know the answer, or they aren’t sure how they feel about something.
Help your child understand that inconclusive answers or asking for more time to consider are perfectly okay. When they don’t want to do something right at that moment, asking for more time is far better than lying about it.
2) If your child is seeking attention or approval
Explain that you understand your child wants to be praised and popular. But pretending in order to gain rewards for something they didn’t do will bring short-lived happiness and eventually backfire. On the other hand, actually working on achieving the things that interest them will bring far greater and longer-lasting benefits.
Try to remain neutral; be careful not to over-sympathize or react too angrily toward the lying. Instead, focus on teaching them how to become the person they want to be by putting in the effort. Remind them that lying will only prevent them from ever reaching their goals.
3) If your child lies to avoid punishment
Explain that it isn’t easy to accept one’s mistakes or admit to doing wrong, because it requires bravery. Avoid interrogating or punishing your children about their lies. This can actually make the matter worse and prevent them from being honest in the future, out of fear of punishment and shame.
Lying is part of your child’s growth and development. Children lie when they can’t find solutions to problems. The important thing is to let your child know that there is always a solution to every problem, and lies are never the solution. Focus the discussion not on the lie itself, but rather on why your child is lying, and suggest a better solution for next time instead of resorting to harsh words or punishment.
You might also be interested in reading the posts below:
- How to deal with rude, defiant children who talk back, and teach them how to control their own emotions
- How to deal with child gaming addiction—a step-by-step guide!
- Secrets to boosting your child’s social skills