Lying is a normal part of growing up. Very young children may embellish stories or tell fibs without realizing they are doing so. They may not have the words to say what they want, or the ability to reason as an older child would. It’s common for toddlers or preschoolers to be involved in “wishful thinking.” Meaning, they didn’t intend for something to happen, so in their mind, it didn’t. As children develop and are able to make the connection between cause and effect, this type of thinking becomes more concrete.
As children get a little older, they may feel the need to brag to gain approval from friends. The school-age years may be the most difficult developmental time for dealing with lying. Children are gravitating towards creating relationships with friends and slowly pulling away from parents. So, distancing themselves from mom and dad may mean leaving out specific details, testing boundaries and being protective of their friends.
When we catch our child in a lie, do we lecture, punish or ignore it? I suggest we reframe the question and ask instead, “What can we do to help our children value honesty?”
Start early! Keep the lines of communication open. Have family meals and family meetings to discuss non-threatening issues. Encouraging non-judgmental “table talk” lets your child know you are interested in what he or she has to say. Give your children routines, limits and age-appropriate boundaries. The hardest part for many parents is enforcing the rules every time. Be consistent!
Sometimes a child may lie to avoid talking about sensitive or embarrassing topics. She may feel intimidated or coerced into a lie to protect someone she loves. Assure your child that even adults have embarrassing things happen at times and it’s always best to tell the truth. Try saying something like, “I appreciate how hard it may have been for you to say that out loud, and I am proud of you for telling the truth.”
Remember, all children’s behaviors have a purpose. Even lying.