Yes, kids lie. (So do adults!) The best way to prevent dishonesty is by enforcing a no-lying policy from an early age
All parents have had times when they worry about their child’s honesty – whether it’s an imaginative fib (“I just jumped two meters high!”) or a troubling lie (“it was George who made the mess, not me!”).
Call them untruths, falsehoods or exaggerations – we do feel unsettled when we catch our kids lying, even if they’re still too young to understand the difference between reality and a fib.
But the truth is that all kids lie – and it’s a habit that can spin out of control so it’s necessary to curb it from an early age.
WHY CHILDREN LIE
Small children don’t always know the difference between fantasy and reality, or they might not realize that lying is unacceptable. But older children, who understand right from wrong, usually lie for the same reasons adults do.
Older children lie to avoid punishment, to be accepted by others, or because they’re competing with their peers at school. They also often lie just because they want to impress you and seek your approval.
Teaching your child not to lie will require some work on your part, but a strict anti-lying policy will soon bear fruit. Here are tips to help the process along.
1. MAKE IT CLEAR THAT THE TRUTH MATTERS
Don’t wait for your children to tell their first lie before you talk to them about the importance of being truthful. They’ll be more willing to listen to you when they’re not trying to defend themselves.
Also explain the consequences of lying, such as that people may stop believing them completely.
2. KNOW YOUR CHILD
Research shows that most parents don’t realize it when their child is lying. That’s because we have a deep need to believe that our kids will always tell the truth.
So get to know your little ones’ behavior so you can detect lies (read how in the box on the opposite page), and be careful of simply blindly believing them.
3. SHOW THEM THE WAY
Kids learn about honesty from their parents. So don’t tell them you’ll be away for a few minutes when you know you’ll be out for a couple of hours. Never call in sick just because you don’t feel like working. It’s important to set a non-lying example. If you are not honest, you can’t expect your kids to behave differently.
4. ACCEPT THEM FOR WHO THEY ARE
Kids often lie to be accepted. If your children feel you love them for who they are, they should therefore not feel the need to lie.
Make it clear that your love for them is unconditional and that you love them even if they are naughty. Look for opportunities to praise them so they feel good about themselves. Give them enough attention, otherwise, they may lie just to get your attention.
5. SET BOUNDARIES
It’s your job to set boundaries on what is acceptable and what is not, whether it is about bedtime or finishing homework before watching TV. A child will naturally test those boundaries by telling lies (“But mommy, my homework is done!”). Persist – the boundaries actually make them feel safe and your child will eventually not have to tell lies.
6. AVOID ACCUSATIONS
Don’t just reprimand your kids when you catch them lying. Rather have a conversation about what they’ve lied about and why.
For example, you can say, “The teacher told me you broke something in class today. Let’s talk about what happened.”
7. KEEP CALM
Children are more likely to lie when they fear your reaction. So if you think they’ve been naughty, just ask calmly what they’re busy doing. If you shout and accuse them, they may respond with a lie to protect themselves from your anger.
An overreaction on your part will only add to your child’s existing fear, insecurity or uncertainty.
8. SET CONSEQUENCES
Your children must know that there will be consequences when they lie, but the consequences must be appropriate and predictable. In other words, if the lie is small, the consequences must be small – for instance, one day of no TV or entertainment gadgets. The consequences can be bigger if the lies are many or big: three days of no TV or entertainment gadgets.
Ideally, the consequences must be small enough so everyone can stick to them and your children can start earning their privileges back by behaving well.
If your child starts telling a lie, stop them, suggest they think about what they are saying, and start over.
SIGNS THAT YOUR CHILD IS LYING
- Avoidance of eye contact
- Crying or getting angry when confronted
- Stuttering while talking
- Struggling to keep their story straight
But if you know your child well enough, you’ll be able to pick up a lie even if they don’t do any of the above!
AGE-BY-AGE GUIDE TO LYING
The best way to teach your children not to lie is to address lies according to their age.
Toddlers and preschoolers (3-5 years):
At this age, children don’t always understand the difference between the truth and their fantasies, daydreaming, wishes and fears. So a child living with a single parent in a flat may tell a friend that he lives in a big house with a swimming pool. This may be what he dreams about, and he may not at that moment realize he’s telling a lie. Gently explain to him that you understand his fantasy, but that the reality is very different.
School-going children (6-12 years):
At this age kids tell lies about things such as homework or tests because they want to see what they can get away with, and also because they fear their parents’ reaction if they disappoint them. Find out why the child isn’t doing well in a particular area and help them do better. Maybe they have too much to do and they can’t keep up. Reward their progress if they improve. Also, continue to have conversations with them about the importance of honesty.
Now it’s all about their independence and privacy, so they will tell lies to safeguard these needs. Respect these needs and if they lie, hear them out first; don’t immediately accuse or punish them.