Children start lying from as young as two years of age. From a developmental perspective, lying in young children is rarely a cause for concern. But what happens when they lie repeatedly or start causing distress to others?
When your child tells a whopper, it can be tempting to punish or discipline them. But is this the best way to handle lying?
Why do children lie?
Children may lie for a variety of reasons. They may view it as the better of two options, they may not feel safe for fear of being yelled at or reprimanded or because it has been effective for them in the past, to get something they want or avoid a consequence.
How do you stop them from lying?
Help your child avoid situations where they feel the need to lie.
You can start by thinking about why your child might be telling lies. For example, if your child is lying to get your attention, consider how you can give your child attention in a proactive way that avoids them feeling the need to lie initially or teach them ways to seek attention appropriately.
If your child is lying to get things they want, consider a reward system that lets your child earn the item instead. If they are stealing from the biscuit bowl, you might put the bowl out of sight, or you could think of a way they can earn a biscuit e.g. putting their shoes away or getting their homework done.
Start with a conversation
Parents should expect kids to lie and push their buttons from time to time. Try to resist the urge to get upset (and punish) or go straight into ‘fix’ mode. If you react by punishing or controlling, it can make your child less likely to use honesty about sticky situations in the future. This holds true no matter your child’s age.
Instead, take a step back and consider why your child feels they need to lie. Are they afraid of the consequences? Are they trying to avoid something? It could be a lack of problem-solving skills, or an attempt to fit in.
Respond to their lie with an age-appropriate, honest conversation. Focus on teaching your child how to solve problems, get through uncomfortable situations and think ahead to consequences for their behaviour.
Be consistent with reaffirming that lying is not acceptable behaviour, and help your child to build skills to deal with their reasons for lying in the first place.
You can still give your child consequences without humiliating or making the child feel ashamed. Any punishments should reflect the type of lie, for example, saying sorry to the person that they’ve lied to, or returning something that doesn’t belong to them
What if they don’t admit to lying?
Traditional parenting would say, “I know you are lying; go to your room!”
With toddlers, respond to lies with facts. For example, you could tell your dirty-faced toddler that you can see the open package on the table and chocolate on their face. When you lay out the evidence in concrete but straightforward terms, you can start to help your child understand right from wrong.
As your child becomes older, you can also help them understand that lying can affect their reputation. Discuss questions like, ‘how do you want others to view you? How do you want to view yourself?”
Bonus Tip: Share your own experiences and reward honesty! Don’t forget to offer positive rewards when your child tells the truth, especially in tough situations.
Being emotionally available while being consistent with your approach to lying is the best way to manage lying in children.
However, impulse control issues can be common in children with conditions such as ADHD which can contribute to problems around lying and dishonesty. If you are a parent or carer concerned with behavioural issues such as lying, we suggest a conversation with your family GP or give us a call to discuss how we can help assist your child’s specific disorder or condition.