Parents want to believe that their children always tell the truth, but unfortunately, kids of all ages lie for a variety of reasons. For example, in a 2011 Psychology Today study, 120 of 121 high-school students admitted to lying to parents about at least one area of their lives. If your child lies to you, you'll need to hand out a consequence to help prevent your child from lying again.
The Reason for Lying
Very young children may make up stories and tell "tall tales" simply because they can't distinguish fact from fiction. Kids typically start lying to avoid punishment after 4 or 5 years of age, notes the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Kids also tell fibs to impress others and lie due to denial, fear of punishment or the desire of love and attention.
The Costs of Lying
When you've caught your child in a lie and he's old enough to understand dishonesty, sit down with him and help him learn how his lies affect him and others, recommends Carl E. Pickhardt, Ph.D. Explain to a young child that when he lies, it makes you sad and angry. Say that when he lies, he may feel fearful, embarrassed or ashamed. Tell a child of any age that if he continues lying, no one will be able to trust him. Share experiences you had when you got caught lying in your youth so your child will relate to you and learn from your mistakes. Explain that if he gets caught lying, he'll be punished twice: once for the lie and once for the original offense which he lied about.
Discipline and Consequences
When your child lies, allow him to experience the natural consequences of his behavior. Whoever he lied to will stop trusting him, for example, and he'll need to earn that trust back. If the child told a serious lie and you don't think natural consequences are enough, consider taking away a prized possession or grounding the child from seeing his friends. If he lied about stealing or breaking something, ask him to return the item or purchase a new one as a logical consequence, then give a separate consequence for the lie itself. Children with no money can earn the funds by doing chores around the house.
Preventing Future Lies
Kids tend to lie when their parents set them up to do so. For example, if you ask your child "Did you color on the walls?" you've set him up to lie and say "No." Instead, you might say "Someone colored on the walls even though we're only supposed to color on paper. Let's clean this mess up together." This way, the child doesn't need to lie, but you've taught him that his actions were wrong. This more effectively corrects the behavior that spurred the lie. Make it easy for your child to confess to a wrongdoing, and tell him that lying is always unacceptable in your home. Don't lie in front of your child. If you tell the truth, your child is more likely to do so as well.
- New York Magazine: Learning to Lie
- Lying, Fibs, and Tall-Tales: Teaching Children to Be Truthful
- University of California, Santa Barbara: Lying and Dishonesty (PDF)
- Positive Discipline: Lying
- Psychology Today: Adolescent Lying: What It Costs and What to Do
- Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service: Discipline without Punishment (PDF)
- American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry: Children and Lying
- Psychology Today: Is Your Teen Trustworthy? Can You Tell?
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