What can I do about lying?

Parents spend a lot of time teaching their children to tell the truth. Most early elementary-aged children have learned not to tell serious lies, although they may continue to exaggerate and tell “little white lies.”

A number of factors help children learn to be truthful. First, most parents put strong limits on lying. Second, kids find that the consequences of lying include the temporary loss of parental acceptance and affection. Since they care very much about pleasing their parents, they’re reluctant to risk losing their approval. Third, when children know lying is wrong they feel guilty about doing it. Guilt is an uncomfortable feeling and a strong deterrent to negative behavior. Kids also resist lying when they discover it doesn’t get them what they hoped it would. And finally, they learn to be honest when the consequences of lying are worse than the consequences of telling the truth.

All children distort the truth to some extent, usually in minor ways. After all, they’re exposed daily to examples of questionable honesty. Parents say, “I’ll be off the phone in a minute,” and then they talk half an hour longer. Teachers say, “I’ll get to you soon,” but they leave the child waiting. Television commercials promise exciting toys, but children discover that the products don’t actually work or meet expectations. After watching a commercial, one child said, “They’re lying about what that doll does and you’re not supposed to lie.” They also hear adults telling intentional white lies and offering false excuses: “I’m so sorry I can’t make the meeting tonight, but I’m not feeling well,” or, “Sorry officer, I wasn’t aware I was speeding.”

The “minor” lies children tell often involved things they don’t want to do, such as brush their teeth or take a shower. A child will say, “Yes, I washed my hands,” when she hasn’t. Kids also commonly lie when confronted with open-ended questions from teachers or other authority figures (“Jason, were you playing around?” “Maria, are you wasting time over there?”). Many children will answer “No” because they hope to avoid a reprimand and believe they won’t get in trouble for lying in such a situation. The teacher will usually respond to a child’s “No” with only a reminder (“You need to get back to work,”) or the offer of a distraction (“You should start on your art project now.”).

Another common sort of lying occurs among peers. One child exaggerates or lies about her possessions because she wants to have the same things her friends have. She lies to give herself a sense of belonging. Others lie out of a competitive desire to impress their peers. Parents often overhear six- to nine-year-old making outrageous claims about their possessions and abilities. Sometimes such fibs lead to fights. The threat of losing friends may be enough to make a child tell the truth.

Although most children distort the truth occasionally, some continue to tell serious, frequent lies. They may do this because they find their parents’ discipline too threatening. If the consequences of misbehaving are very harsh, a child will lie to avoid them. And if parents impose heavy punishments for lying about the misbehavior, she may be even more afraid to admit the truth. She may reason that it’s better to lie on the chance that she’ll get away with it than to tell the truth and face certain, severe punishment. When she is confronted with her misbehavior and her lie, she may still refuse to tell the truth because the consequences are too frightening. She may instead blame a sibling or friend rather than face the inevitable confrontation. Basically, she tries to protect herself by denying the facts.

Parents whose child lies out of fear need to reevaluate the discipline they’re imposing. If they can deal with their child less harshly, she may eventually feel safe enough to tell the truth. They should continue to set limits and consequences for lying, but the limits and consequences have to be fair. If they’re excessive, she will continue to view lying as the better alternative.

Parents, of course, often find themselves in a bind. They want to punish misbehavior and reward honesty. But if their child is honest about misbehaving, the end result, from the child’s point of view, is negative. She still has to face the consequences. Parents have to handle this dilemma by evaluating each situation separately and making a special point of reinforcing honesty.

The way you talk to your child about lying is important. Instead of angrily shouting, “You’re lying again!” show some understanding of her position. Say, for example, “1 think you made up that story because you were afraid I’d get mad at you,” or, “Sometimes people don’t tell the truth because they’re worried about, getting in trouble,” or, “I think you lied because you thought, 1 wouldn’t let, you go to your friend’s birthday party.” if you’ve been overly harsh in your punishment, discuss that with her. Tell her you realize you’ve been getting too upset. Say, “I should be more patient with you.” She needs reassurance that you can accept the truth without, becoming excessively angry.

If you’ve eased up on your reactions and she’s still lying, look at other aspects of her life. Is she having problems in school? Is she able to make friends? Is she getting enough positive attention at home? Observe her at play and ask her teacher for observations and suggestions. Tell your child what you expect of her and talk about the effects her lies have on other children. As long as her lying isn’t excessive, you don’t need to worry. Just watch her behavior, reinforce examples of honesty, and continue talking about telling the truth.

Picture Credit : Google