When you catch your kid lying for the first time, it is normal to feel betrayed and disappointed. While lying is considered as bad behaviour, it is a normal part of growing up in children. Moreover, white lies, which are said in order to be polite, can be an important social skill in kids.
However, if you find your child lying to you often, it is important that you do not feel frustrated. Instead, you can use positive reinforcement methods to encourage them to tell the truth.
Why do Kids Lie?
Kids aren’t born with a moral code that distinguishes between right and wrong. This is learned behaviour. Through interaction and examination of their environment, they gradually learn these codes of conduct. Since their cognition and understanding of the world is also in the process of development, they may lie for various reasons at different ages.
1. To Avoid Getting into Trouble
One of the most common reasons why kids lie is to avoid getting punished. If they understand that there are consequences for breaking a rule or not doing what they were supposed to, it is likely that they will lie instead to avoid being punished.
2. A Response to Peer Pressure
Children may also lie in order to feel like they fit in better with their friends. This is often done in order to impress friends.
3. To Get What they Want
If you tell them that they would be given something after completing a certain task, they may lie in order to get the reward. They may even lie to avoid doing the chore.
4. Too Many Restrictions
If there are a lot of restrictions imposed on the kids and they are asked to give details of everything that they do, they may feel trapped. Such kids are likely to lie to in order to have the independence of enjoying normal things.
5. To Avoid Hurting Other’s Feelings
Some kids gradually learn to say white lies in order to seem polite and not hurt others. Telling their aunt that they love the gift even if they aren’t very fond of it is one such white lie. Most kids learn this either after being told to do so or out of consideration for others feelings. This may lay the edifice of certain social skills in kids.
6. To Get Attention
Kids who tell tall tales may be trying to get their parents’ attention. Kids with a vivid imagination may also lie to make their stories more creative.
When does a Child start Lying?
Children may begin to lie as early as around 2 years old. Since their language skills are still developing and they aren’t able to recognize the difference between reality and fantasy, they may not understand moral importance of telling the truth. Although, lying may start very early in children, the reason for lying changes as their cognitive skills and understanding of the world develops.
- Children under the age of three lie in order to avoid punishment or to avoid doing something that they don’t enjoy. If they are asked about a mistake, they may bend the truth or outright lie in order to avoid being reprimanded or punished. They may even be reacting to your tone when you ask them if they did something wrong. If you sound angry, it is likely that they will lie in order to avoid that anger. Punishing these toddlers for lying may have no effect as they are usually not able to wrap their heads around why they are being punished.
- Between the ages of three to seven, kids are often unclear about the distinction between reality and fantasy. This is when you may notice them telling you about imaginary friends and getting creative with their lies. They may even insist that this fantasy world is real.
- Kids between the age of eight to twelve understand what it means to lie. They may often test what they can and cannot get away with as they lie. This is when you can expect lies regarding homework or work that they do not want to do. At this age, lying tugs their conscience and they begin to feel guilty for having lied.
- Once children enter their pre-teens and teens, they tend to lie for various reasons which may include not wanting to be reprimanded, peer pressure (desire to fit in), etc. At this age, they are completely aware of the repercussions of their lies and understand that they have a choice.
Helping your Child to Stop Lying
If you catch your child lying, it is important to react appropriately in order to not scare them further into lying. Here’s what to do if your child lies to you.
1. Stay Calm
If you react aggressively when you catch your children lying, it is likely that he will repeat it again in order to avoid your anger. Instead, talk to him in a calm and composed manner. This encourages him to avoid lying or come clean the next time.
2. Understand the Reason:
Find out why your child is lying. You can ask him directly once he’s admitted to lying. You may find out that there’s a reason behind his lies. He might’ve been scared of the repercussions. You can even initiate this by asking him if he was scared of telling the truth. If you find that your kid has bragged about things that he hasn’t done, he may be suffering from low self-esteem.
3. Explain that it is Wrong to Lie:
If your child broke something or made a mistake calmly tell him that mistakes are common and they happen. However, lying about it isn’t acceptable and that he needs to take responsibility for his mistakes. This will help them understand that the next time they wouldn’t need to lie to cover up a mistake.
4. Avoid Asking Questions that will lead to a Lie
Instead of asking your child if he’s done his homework, you can ask him when he plans on doing it. This will give him the chance to tell you his plan rather than cooking up a lie.
5. Appreciate Honesty
If your child comes clean about a lie, it is important that you appreciate him for it. If you react negatively even when he has opened up to you, there is a chance that he will not do it again to avoid your anger.
6. Avoid Punishment
Don’t punish your child if you find that he’s lied. This is especially true for younger kids as it may impact his emotional health. Instead, use positive reinforcement and praise him for accepting that he’s lied.
7. Limit your White Lies
Kids need good role models to look up to. They learn a lot of behaviours from their parents as you are a yardstick to how they perceive the world. Hence, it is important that you do not lie in front of your kids. This also means, not lying on the phone about where you are or other little lies that are considered acceptable to adults. Also, limit telling too many white lies. Although it is important for your child to learn them as he grows older, it can give him mixed signals about what kind of lie is acceptable. Rather than assuming that your child will find out eventually, try limiting your white lies until your child has a clear understanding of why these white lies are being told.
8. Bond with your Child
If your child has been lying to get your attention, make sure that you spend quality time with him. The first few years of development are crucial in helping set his moral compass right. It also tells him that you are available if he needs to speak to you about anything.
In kids, lying starts as something that is innocent; but if not checked at the right time, it can grow into something more serious that can affect them in the future. If you find that your child lies to you often, stage an intervention and talk to them calmly. Explain to them that lying is wrong and has its consequences. It is also important that you build a comfortable relationship with your kid which allows him to reach out to you without any fear. In case your child lies pathologically, seek professional help.