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Does your child lie? Here's how to handle lying in children the right way

Hannah S Mathew Hannah S Mathew 5 Mins Read

Hannah S Mathew Hannah S Mathew


Written For ParentCircle Website new design update

Whether it is conjuring up a tale, uttering half-truths, or stating plain lies, most children are likely to indulge in them. Here's an insight into why children lie and what you can do about it.

Toddler to Teen
Why Children Lie And What Parents Can Do About It

The Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy explains that lying is all about an individual intentionally making a false statement to another with the intention to deceive.

According to Dr. Shobha Teresa George, Family Therapist, and Counsellor, Trivandrum,

"Like all habits, one learns the habit of telling lies based on what was modeled to them by their significant caregivers and, later on, by peers or popular media influence. Children's minds register these as the norm. Later on, they begin to lie out of fear of punishment or reprimand. How caregivers handle the first lie sets the stage for further lies. In this regard, the focus ought to be on the reason for the lies rather than the lies themselves. Telling lies springs from an intrinsic fear of losing one's credibility before others if the truth is known. These fears have to be addressed. In the end, the consequence of telling lies makes us lose our credibility. Lies hurt the very soul that utters it."

The study 'Emergence of Lying in Very Young Children', by Lee and Evans, published in the journal of Developmental Psychology (2013) says that children begin lying as early as 43 to 48 months. Therefore, it is quite possible that your toddler is already saying things to deceive you.

But, what is it that makes the act of lying so prevalent and potent? Let's read on to explore more about why our children lie, and the dos and don'ts of tackling your child's habit of lying and nipping it in the bud.

Why children lie

Ages 2 to 5

  1. More often than not, children want to maintain peace in their immediate surroundings. Your child may lie to make you feel glad or to protect her friend or a relative.
  2. Young children cannot tell the difference between truths and lies. So, it is possible your child might misunderstand the act of lying as being a creative way of telling stories.
  3. The desire in children to appear intelligent may make them exaggerate the truth and situations.
  4. Biology has a hand in it too. When growth hormones confuse children and they have too little time to react to something, lying seems like an easy way out.

Ages 6 to 10

  1. If children had been caught lying and the incident had been addressed with humiliation or punishment, they may have lost face or confidence. So, they could easily identify themselves as habitual liars.
  2. Peer pressure can cause children to lie in order to feel accepted.
  3. "It's not a lie unless you get caught" is widely believed by children. Children may believe this to be true and resort to lying.
  4. Some children may be tempted to behave in a dishonest manner to exact revenge from peers who have hurt them.
  5. Children may lie to find their way out of a difficult situation.

Other reasons why children lie

Children might lie when you:

  1. Frequently compare your child to other children. This may make her feel unaccepted and she may tell lies to gain your acceptance.
  2. Are insensitive to, or ignorant of your child's emotions. This can cause her to lie so that you don't treat her harshly.
  3. Lack of control over your child's exposure to media could introduce her to faulty notions about lying and make her pick up the habit.
  4. Make your child feel that she is a bad child because she lies. This will only make her feel licensed to lie.
  5. Your child may feel like the odd one out if she doesn't indulge in dishonesty. This can push her to tell lies.
  6. Don't address the reason behind your child's habit of lying. This can prevent her from quitting the habit.
  7. Share a toxic relationship with your spouse and your child feels anger and frustration. This can prompt your child to indulge in lying when faced with questions about her home.
  8. Do not give your child proper guidance but punish her for her mistakes. She may lie to avoid such unpleasant experiences.
  9. Threaten your child and inculcate a sense of fear in her. This can prompt her to lie to escape the consequences.
  10. Give your child complicated explanations and directions. Your child may lie to avoid being lectured to and advised.

What to do to make your child stop lying

  1. It is important to be a good model of truthfulness at all times. Your child observes you closely and imitates your actions.
  2. Oppose the habit of lying, because it is the habit that must be shunned, and not the person. Explain to him that he is a good person but telling lies is not a good habit.
  3. Avoid long speeches. Instead, confront the lie in a straightforward manner.
  4. Privacy is important to your child. Therefore, keep it within the family to avoid undue embarrassment to your child.
  5. Approach your child with care and concern when you want to talk about a lie. He needs to feel that he is being helped and guided. He mustn't feel like he has committed a crime.
  6. Let your child know the consequences of lying. For example, lies breed lies - as he will have to cover up old lies with new ones, and dig himself into deeper trouble.
  7. Praise every instance of honesty, no matter how small. Rewards and praise would encourage him to be truthful more often.
  8. Dinnertime and bonding time should include conversations on the topic of 'resisting temptation'. Let him know how you face temptations and manage to overcome them.
  9. Tell your young child stories that deal with the habit of lying like 'Pinocchio', 'The Boy Who Cried 'Wolf' and 'The Man Who Never Lied'.

These measures can be easily incorporated but, the environment your child lives in also contributes greatly to his ability to lie. Polygraph Expert and Professor of Psychology Leonard Saxe explains that lies have become a characteristic of life and every day has its dose of deceptions. As a result, your child faces lies and opportunities to lie every day! For that reason, it is important to step up your pace in educating and guiding your child to keep away from lying.

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