When children lie, it can be extremely frustrating for parents to manage. Beyond common beliefs, lying is actually a typical stage in child development. Lying can be a way for a child to get their needs met, or how they are exploring their own interpersonal and decision-making skills. Let’s discuss some reasons behind the lying, as well as strategies to use to decrease the behavior.
Possible Reasons for Lying
A common reason for lying is children trying to get out of a consequence or punishment for a behavior. Kids may learn to be scared to tell the truth because of the severity of negative outcomes. If there is no reward for telling the truth, or an understanding as to why telling the truth is important, children will result to lying to avoid facing the consequence.
As children grow older, they start to have curiosities about specific behaviors. What will happen if I do this when my parents told me not to? What will happen if I say something when it’s not true? Children do not entertain these thoughts to be intentionally malicious, but rather are trying to discover their place in the world and understand the difference between “right and wrong” or “good and bad”.
Sometimes lying can be a way for children to build confidence in themselves. Perhaps they believe that telling a lie will make them seem more impressive to people in their lives.
Speaking Before Thinking
Kids tend to be impulsive, and they may just blurt out an answer before thinking it through. Sometimes, children can forget the answer to the question asked. For example, if you ask a child “did you do your homework?”, they might think they did and will respond with “yes”. It is possible they genuinely thought it was completed, even if later it’s found out it wasn’t.
What Caregivers Can Do About Lying
Determine the Reason for the Lie
Trying to figure out why the child may be lying is likely to help parents stop the behavior. If the reason is trying to gain approval due to low self-esteem, help your child build their confidence by supporting and learning ways to have them feel better about themselves. If the child is trying to test limits, stay calm and continue to reinforce boundaries and expectations of behaviors. Do not use extreme punishments, and encourage telling the truth. Reassuring that truth-telling will not result in negative consequences may be beneficial as well.
Allow Time to Think About Responses
As mentioned earlier, children can be impulsive and just blurt out the first thing on their mind. If you suspect that the child is lying, walk away and give them time to think. Tell them you will check back in later to see if maybe their answer has changed. This will allow them time to think through the questions asked and give an appropriate response.
Providing children an explanation as to why lying is bad as well as the importance of honesty will help them understand. Praise them when they are honest which in turn will encourage the behavior. Set the expectation that telling the truth will result in no to minimal punishment, whereas lying will make the consequences much worse. Create an environment where they feel safe and secure to tell the truth.
While these strategies can be useful, they may not help everyone. If you find you are still struggling with your child lying and managing these behaviors, reach out to a therapist and schedule some family sessions. Mental health professionals will work with you and your child to discover the root of the lies as well as how to effectively manage them.