Victoria Talwar, a professor of developmental psychology, Tata Mcgill University, who has done extensive research on preschoolers and lying, says that, “When preschoolers lie, they are testing out a new ability. They are realizing that they can have thoughts, knowledge and beliefs of their own.” Indeed, as children grow and explore the world around them, they become aware of newer possibilities. They understand moods and emotions. They know what gets them into trouble and what doesn’t. During this phase of self-realisation, how can we help our little ones learn to always speak the truth? Here are a few pointers.
1. Get to the root of the issue
Is your child scared of you? Most children lie out of fear. High behavioural expectations from parents force children to lie as they fear the consequence of ‘wrongdoing’. Some others lie to get their way with things. Therefore, it is very important to find the reason why your child is lying instead of reprimanding him. While you try to correct your child’s habit, also see if you can make other lifestyle changes around him to help further.
2. Don’t put your child in a spot
When you find that your child has lied to you, instead of grilling and scaring her further, look in her eyes and tell her that you know the truth. Prod her gently to be honest, while holding her close. Assure your child that she will not be scolded or punished if she comes clean. Keep a safe space in your home for these difficult conversations – the bedroom or a couch. If your child tells the truth right away, keep your word and do not reprimand her, however annoyed you may be. Let your little one off with a warning.
3. Praise your child when he tells the truth
When your child tells the truth after initially lying to you, praise him for being brave. The next time your child lies, refer to the incident where he boldly spoke the truth and encourage him to do so all the time.
4. Correct the little white lies
Little white lies or exaggerated statements may sound very cute from a preschooler. While it may not be as bad as an outright dishonest lie, it is good to rephrase the entire episode along with your child and narrate exactly what happened yourself. Give your child another turn to say it again. If she does not understand the difference, a small role-play between you and your spouse on exaggeration over some issue that your child can relate to, will help get the point across.
5. Model truthful words and actions
It is very difficult and confusing for your child to hear you speak lies but punishing him when he does the same. If you have a child who lies frequently, bring to her attention when you speak the truth in tight situations and explain in simple terms why and how you chose to tell the truth. Your little one will watch you, learn from you and follow suit subconsciously.
Let honesty and truth be a family virtue that everyone follows. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Remember, more is caught than taught.
Anitha Bennett is a freelance author who has written books for children from preschool to preteen levels. She also conducts workshops for parents, teachers and children.