Politicians do it. Footballers do it. Role models do it. And, of course, kids do it. Why kids lie and what to do about it
Posted by: Sue Atkins
As a Deputy Head and class teacher for 22 years I’ve heard my fair share of ‘porky pies’ ranging from ‘My homework fell into the blender as I was making my breakfast smoothie’ to ‘I thought you gave me 20 stickers this morning’ to ‘Mrs Brown said I could help myself to all this colourful paper out of your cupboard’
All kids lie occasionally and there is a variety of different reasons why they do it depending on their age and maturity, to their confidence and circumstances but regardless of the reason it’s about teaching them about the importance of integrity, honesty and doing & saying the right thing even when no one is watching.
• Very young children don’t understand the difference between what the truth is and what isn’t. Therefore, your toddlers ‘lie’ may often stem from innocent fantasy rather than deliberate deception because children at this age frequently engage in ‘wishful thinking’ It’s like when they tell you that they have washed their hands after going to the toilet when you know they are fibbing.
• Children often lie in an attempt to hide something they know they’ve done wrong in order to avoid the shame, embarrassment or disapproval and the negative consequences they know will follow.
• Kids often lie to avoid your rules e.g. lying about having completed homework in order to be able to go out to play, say they have brushed their teeth because they don’t fancy doing it, or say they didn’t eat the chocolate biscuit as they know you’ll get cross.
Kids often lie to avoid your disapproval as for some children the last thing they want to do is disappoint you.
• Children with low self-esteem sometimes ‘lie’ or exaggerate the truth, as a way to impress others or to fit in with their friends or school peers.
Also some children who are feeling insecure may even invent scenarios to try to get your attention and interest – as any attention is better than no attention at all.
But when your child repeatedly & deliberately lies to you it hurts.
As parents, it makes us angry and we naturally take it personally and feel disappointed in our kids and it makes us feel like we can never trust our child again.
Why does lying cause such anger, pain and worry for parents?
The reason why you may feel so affronted is that lying hits one of your core values and when one of your of your important life values has been broken you feel violated and upset or angry.
My approach is to help you to try looking at the problem another way.
• Instead of punishing every single fib, try to make sure that you create a safe environment for your children to feel safe telling you the truth.
• Be aware of how you encourage the truth in your house and how you respond to misbehaviour, mistakes & accidents in general because if you are too harsh , too unforgiving & and too controlling you create and air of anxiety in your home and an air of perfection that may be stressful.
• Don’t set your child up for the opportunity to tell you a lie by asking questions to which you already know the answer ! Give them a ‘get out of jail card’ or way to save face.
• Try to step back from the situation for a moment and press an imaginary ‘Pause Button’ like on your remote control DVD player as it just gives you a moment to immediately detach from the situation to assess perhaps WHY they feel the need to lie to you.
• Praise your child when they tell the truth so they learn that you value honesty – and of course always model honesty and truthfulness yourself.
• Create an environment where mistakes are a way to learn from. Read the story of the famous scientist who spilt milk http://sueatkinsparentingcoach.com/263/
• Make sure you use the opportunity to talk and teach your kids about what you expect from them and why telling the truth is important. A good way to do this is to read books with those sort of themes which give a clear message that lying is not right; ‘The Boy who Cried Wolf’ but don’t lecture!
• Show unconditional love – where you show your kids that you love them but not the behaviour.
• Give your child the chance to make amends and don’t label them as ‘The one we can’t trust – the one who tells lies’
• Stay involved in your child’s life and encourage them to be truthful with you. Children of all ages who have good communication with their parents and talk with them about what they’re doing are less likely to engage in antisocial behaviour.
When you need to know the truth
Sometimes children lie to keep a secret or to protect someone. For example, a child who has been bullied will often lie to protect the bully. Often the child is afraid that they will be punished if they tell. If you suspect your child is lying about a serious matter:
• Give them lots of reassurance that they will be safe if they tell the truth.
• Confidently explain that no one ‘deserves’ to be bullied and that bullying is NOT OK and that needs to be dealt with but reassure your child that you will be discreet if how you tell their teacher or the school so as not to make things worse.
If you find that your child frequently lies as part of a larger pattern of inappropriate behaviours such stealing, lighting fires or hurting animals you might want to seek professional help from your doctor, or school psychologist.
The key thing is to talk and teach your child about the behaviour you DO want to encourage and see more of, and be consistent with praise – build bridges not walls between you of honesty and trust.