When Your Kids Lie
A couple of years ago, my daughter and two of her young friends were involved in something of a haircutting scandal during a playdate. One of the girls went home with a new and shorter do, and after multiple versions of the story and promising she was telling the truth, my daughter finally came out with the real truth. If she’d come out with real story immediately, I would’ve been upset, but after rounds of sleuthing around to uncover the real story, I was angry.
Why had it taken so long for her to confess?
Melissa Benaroya, a parenting consultant and the co-founder of Grow Parenting, says that children lie for the same reasons we all do at times. They are scared of the consequences the truth will bring or think that avoiding the truth is just easier. Benaroya says that another reason younger kids lie is that they don’t completely understand that they’re not telling the truth. “Younger children (Pre K –Kindergarten) have a very vivid imagination and often have a difficult time separating their fantasy world from the real world,” says Benaroya.
So though it is upsetting, lying is not only a common occurrence in kids but is also developmentally appropriate at times. As kids grow older, a child may lie in order to gain more independence because it is easier and less confrontational than simply asking for permission to stay out later or go somewhere with their friends, even though you might have easily said yes to their request. At whatever age, when it happens to you, here are five things you can do to help them understand the importance of the truth:
- Don’t lose it. When you understand your child is not telling you the whole truth (or any truth at all), keep your cool and don’t put him or her on the defensive. Since you want your child to not be afraid of being honest with you, don’t create fear with your reaction.
- Reward honesty. Give your child a chance to first tell the truth when you suspect something is wrong. And then when you get the real story, remember our first point and don’t lose your temper. You not only want to reward the truth, but you also give them a safe space to be honest with you. There should still be consequences for making bad choices, but definitely let him or her know how proud you are for telling the truth to encourage them continue to be honest with you.
- Make consequences known. While it’s important for your child to understand that lying is wrong, make it easier for them to resist the temptation (especially when peer pressure is involved) by making sure they understand the consequences. If your child knows that not telling the truth means they have to say no to hanging out with their friends or turn in their Xbox, they may think twice about doing it. This also means you have to follow through with the consequences.
- Create learning opportunities. We all learn from our mistakes so talk with your child about why they lied and what he or she may have learned from the situation. While a younger child might have wanted to avoid getting in trouble for taking an extra cookie, an older child might have not known how to get out of a sticky and/or potentially dangerous situation without feeling embarrassed in front of his friends. Talk with your younger child about different opportunities for earning special treats or rewards, or practice with your older child how to say no to situations that will get them into trouble.
- Model good behavior. While we emphasize honesty as the best policy, sometimes our everyday conversations and activities are filled with little white lies we barely notice, from how our co-workers’ new outfit looks to how we are feeling, or why we’re unable to make that appointment. We tell these little white lies to avoid conflict the same way our kids do, and though sometimes the bold truth is unnecessary as well (an innocent “How are you?” isn’t always a request for the minute details of your life), our kids are watching our every move. And because young kids can’t tell the difference between a big and little lies, when they see you do it, they’ll believe that lying is acceptable behavior. So the next time you feel tempted to tell the person on the phone that you can’t talk because you’re just about to run out the door, remember that not only might your child be watching you, but also that the person on the other line most likely wouldn’t be that upset about hearing you ask to call them back later at a better time to talk.