One day you have a sweet little toddler and the next day you have a kiddo who is lying to you. This can be frustrating as a parent to deal with since we all want to raise our kids to be honest. Before we look at how to handle when your child lies, let’s start with taking a look at why they lie.
2 to 4-year old’s
At this age, children do not understand the concept of lying. They do not fully grasp the concept of truth and fiction. They spend all day playing make believe with you, with their toys, with siblings. This is a healthy type of play for this age and you should definitely be encouraging make-believe play.
But because of this, they do not understand the importance of telling you the truth to a question that you ask. In a toddler or preschoolers mind, their answers could be something that they want to have happen or something that happened in their make-believe play earlier that day.
I wouldn’t spend too much punishing your toddler or preschooler for lying to you. Just simply correct the behavior and move on for now. Trying to explain the concept of telling the truth versus lying will only frustrate both of you and not lead to the results that you are hoping for.
5 to 8-year old’s
School aged kids are a different story than toddlers and preschoolers. Kids at this age often have a reason for lying. Whether it is a little white lie for something that they think will benefit them or out of fear of disappointing you as their parent, there is always a motive to their lies at this age.
There are a few different general reasons that kids this age tend to lie:
- They want to avoid one of your rules. For example, they tell you that they cleaned their room so they could go play, but they didn’t actually clean it.
- They want to avoid punishment. For example, they know they aren’t supposed to be throwing a ball indoors, break something, then lie to you about throwing the ball indoors so they don’t get in trouble.
- They will brag about some aspect of their life, usually to other kids at school, and in the course of bragging, they will exaggerate the truth with a lie. While this form of lying isn’t as noticeable, it is still something that you want to keep an eye out for and nip it in the bud.
- They might lie to get your attention. This type of lie is a little more innocent since they are attempting to get your attention.
While lying in general is something that you want to correct, it can certainly be a frustrating occurrence when you catch your child lying to you.
Here’s a list of 7 things to do when your child lies:
- Stay calm and avoid name calling. Staying calm helps in all parenting situations because when you stay calm, your child is more likely to stay calm. This allows for a conversation to take place instead of raised voices. You also want to avoid calling your child a “liar”. While it may be true that they lied to you, calling them a liar will damage their self-esteem and they might believe that they are a liar, and therefore continue to lie.
- Be solution focused. Try to keep your conversation focused on a solution to whatever situation prompted the lying. Are they lying because they broke something? Focus on how they could have told you it was broken, instead of lying about it.
- Don’t ask questions that give the opportunity to lie. If you know that your child did not clean their room yet, don’t ask “did you clean your room?”. This gives your child the opportunity to lie to you to avoid punishment by telling you that it’s clean. Instead phrase your question with a solution in it, like this, “I see that you have not cleaned your room yet. Let’s make a plan how to get it cleaned up.” By eliminating the opportunity to lie, you are teaching your child the importance of telling the truth.
- Celebrate honesty. Celebrating honesty can be as simple as “Thank you for telling the truth.” This validation will solidify that telling the truth is the right thing to do.
- Find out the root cause of the lying. No matter what the lie is, there is a reason behind it (unless you child is a preschooler). You want to figure out what that reason is and handle the root of the problem. Maybe your child is lying about grades because there is too much pressure on them to perform.
- Spend some quality time with your child. These are some crucial years in your child’s development. Spending quality time with them, modeling the behavior you want your child to have (such as telling the truth) is one of easiest and most effective ways to make sure your child tells the truth.
- Be there for your child. No matter what the situation is, you want your child to know that you are always there for them. You want them to know, without a doubt, that you will have their back and support them, no matter what. This comfort inn knowing that you are always in their corner will make them more likely to always tell you the truth, even when it is hard.
With these tools and understanding, you can help your child learn the importance of telling the truth and you can continue to model the behavior that you want your child to emulate.