Why do kids lie and how to deal with it?
Kids lie for similar reasons parents do: to be acknowledged communally, to get rank, to upset somebody, or because they dread the cost of telling the truth.
However, younger children don’t know the idea of truth and lies in the way that adults do.
Let’s enter the world of the kid to know why children can bend the truth so effortlessly.
Quite simply, the world of the younger child is half spent in fantasy. They continually play games, make up stories and characters with which to experiment with situations and roll play.
There is a huge amount to be discussed around play and fantasy, but for the purposes of this article, we’re going to make a couple of acknowledgements and focus on a particular type of lying.
Knowing that kids spend a lot of time in fantasy land, it is easy to see how they might take a while to get round the idea that fantasy play and lying are two different things. I’ve had some pretty amusing accounts of my daughter’s day at school with all sorts of fantastical things happening. This could be considered “lying” but really it’s still playing and, while frustrating at times, she’ll soon learn the difference and it is my job to help her discover that difference and show her that sharing the reality of her school day with me is better than making up amazing stories.
This is not the kind of lying that this article is about, but it is important to acknowledge that it takes place and to understand that when it does, it is not something that needs to be punished.
Damn lies and statistics
In 2008, the New York journal reported on an investigation that seems to confirm the connection between lying and intelligence. Whilst many parenting resources emphasise that kids will ultimately grow away from their lying manners, the researchers seemed to prove that the reverse is true! Averaging the statistics, they found that a child of 4 lies as a minimum once every 2 hours, while a kid of 6 lies at least once every 1 and half hours.
Some common “reasons” for lying :
- Avoiding punishment (well who doesn’t!?)
- To be in command of, and get status.
- Avoiding embarrasment
- Avoid somthing they don’t want/like
- Experiment (we’ll be ignoring this reason today, though it is kind of covered in the fantasy play side of things)
An uncomfortable truth?
The main reason is just as clear: they discover lying from us: the parents and role models and knowledge holders of the universe.
We lie for convenience all the time! “sorry, I don’t have any spare change”, “I’m just on my way out so can’t stop to talk”, “Stop doing that because you’ll break that other thing”, “No you can’t have something to eat because I’m busy doing this”, “We’re not going out because it looks like it might rain”. Etc. The funny thing is that we also lie to ourselves : “I’ll tell a little fib and my daughter won’t notice, so it’s fine!”
Guess what! My daughter’s a smart girl and she can see right through my weak excuses (there I go again – I called it an excuse, when it was actually a lie).
How to stop your kids from lying
Now that I’ve admitted to myself that I’m probably the biggest cause of my daughter’s pro-lying attitude, what on earth can I do about it!? Actually it turns out it’s not so hard…
Tell the truth
Obviously the number one thing to do is make a commitment to myself and my daughter to be honest with her. If I’m feeling lazy and don’t want to go for a walk, I’ll tell her that that’s why rather than make something up (lie). This will actually have lots of positives and one that will probably have a profound effect on me and my daughter :
- I won’t be showing her that lying is OK.
- I will be showing her how to tell the truth when it’s not necessarily something that I want to hear.
- I’ll probably do more with my daughter because I’ll tell her the truth and then think how ridiculous my excuse is and promptly do whatever it is!
Explain why telling the truth is important
Ever heard of Peter and Wolf? A classic children’s story with a very clear moral. It’s about a boy who, on “wolf watch” caring for the village sheep makes up a wolf attack and after a couple of times, the village don’t believe him anymore so when the wolf really turns up to eat him and the sheep, the villagers don’t come to help. Explaining both directly why telling the truth is the right thing to do as well as indirectly through stories such as Peter and the Wolf or even better : stories from your own life that illustrate the point can help here. Maybe not immediately, but give it time to sink in and be adopted.
Work together and find an alternative to lying
Your child has been given a revolting hand knitted jumper by Aunt Dorris. Helping our kids understand that telling the actual truth might hurt Dorris while still finding a way to say that while the thought is appreciated, it’s not really their style but will treasure it for the time and care she’s put into it will stand your child in really good stead for her future. Potential politician in the family!? On second thoughts, maybe that piece of advice isn’t so good. Best to tell Dorris it’s lovely and stick it at the back of the cupboard 😉
Compromise on truth vs un-truth
As a parent, I set rules about how much television my daughter can watch, when it’s bedtime etc. As part of what I believe is good parenting, I try as hard as I can to be consistent with these rules but as she grows older and wants to assert her authority, I notice that she’s starting to bend and break certain rules but lie about it when questioned. The solution for me is to compromise with her. If I show her that by telling the truth and talking about it with me that I am able to listen to her reasoning and she in turn listen’s to mine, we reach compromises for special occasions or use allowed rule bending as a reward for good behaviour.
Give them an “out”
Our kids will lie to us. Often. It’s an accepted fact that this will happen and we know (and dread) that we’ll catch them at it from time to time whether it’s something big or something small and then we’ll have to “deal” with the lie somehow. One of the best opportunities to encourage our children to tell the truth is when we catch them at it!
Let them know they’ve been caught but don’t punish or address it immediately (if you can – sometimes these transgressions need to be brought up sharply, but try to keep objective on this). Instead, let them know they’ve been caught lying and that they have a short amount of time in which to address the lie. Circumstance will dictate how they address it (apology, simple truth, reparation etc.), but give them the chance to make it right.
Doing this will give them the chance to do the right thing, show that you’re not going to blow up or unnecessarily punish them for, what is normally, a small transgression. It will also build trust and connection between you and your child.
Children lie. Adults lie.
We all lie from time to time and it is our responsibility to help our kids understand the difference between lying (including lying by omission) and story telling. If you would like some help educating your children about lying and truthfulness, then see if you can track down a copy of A Children’s Book About LYING (Help Me Be Good Series) which can be read with your children and could put some needed objective 3rd person authority on this (after all, we all know that our kids can choose not to listen to us just because it’s us that’s telling them).