Children and lying
Parents are a great resource to model how children should act.
Most children will lie from time to time. According to The Incredible Years curriculum, initially children may tell exploratory lies to test limits of what they can get away with and to see what will happen if they break rules. Another type of lie is a deliberate attempt to conceal something that someone has done wrong in order to avoid punishment. This may be more typical of an older child. A third type of lie is much bigger and involves extreme bragging or exaggeration about a family member or an experience. A fourth type of lie is the fantasy lie. This is when children use their imagination. This is what children with imaginary friends are doing when they blame something on their “friend.” Most preschoolers have a hard time separating reality from fantasy so they are more likely to exaggerate, deny or have wishful thinking. Like older children, school-aged children are more apt to deliberately tell a lie in order to avoid trouble or gain something.
When your child lies do not panic! Michigan State University Extension suggests the first step a parent should take is to respond calmly. Similar to other common behavior problems, lying should be viewed as an opportunity to help your child learn. Forcing someone or trying to scare them into telling the truth will actually, in most cases, have the reverse affect. Most people will lie when asked to incriminate themselves. Avoiding lectures and criticism will also help with avoiding lying, defensiveness and rebellion. Confronting your child in a positive manner is probably the best thing you can do. If you have a pre-school aged child who loves to tell stories, you can let them know that you enjoy their story telling, but make sure you let them know that you also know that their story is make believe and let them know how silly you think it is. For example, you could say something like, “Johnny, that make-believe story sure is silly! I wonder what it would sound like if it wasn’t make-believe.”
It is also important to try and understand why a child is not telling the truth. They may have some self-esteem issues or may feel inferior in a school subject or extracurricular activity. Children will also lie to avoid punishment, making it crucial to make sure that consequences are not so fearful and/or painful that your child would rather not tell the truth. While consequences should be enforced for lying and for the misbehavior that led to it, remember they should be designed to teach, not to inflict physical or emotional pain.
Although as adults we want to be the perfect parent, we all know mistakes are often made. The one thing we can try really hard to do is model the behaviors we want to see in our children! Be a good role model. Show your children what honesty looks and sounds like and praise and reward them for their honesty.