When our son turned 7, he went through a phase. A lying phase. I am happy to say that it isn’t a problem any more, but at the time, it brought a lot of frustration. All kids tell lies.
Young Children tell lies based on make-believe. They are usually made up stories of who they wish they were (a princess or a superhero), or what they wish they could do (today I crossed the street without holding anyone’s hand).
Elementary School Children tell smarter lies to sound cool, avoid being punished, and to get what they want. If they find that their lies get them what they want, the lies will become a habit. We want to stop them before they get to that point.
Teenagers will tell manipulative lies to protect themselves and their friends. They will also lie to avoid arguments and punishments and to get what they want. An occasional lie is not the end of the world. We just don’t want it to turn into a habit.
So what can we do to stop the lying?
First, we need to be the type of parent that sets fundamental rules with reasonable expectations, and we need to be willing to listen to our children. When we really listen to our children, they feel more comfortable talking to us and will be less likely to hide things from us. They will be more open with us because they feel respected and therefore will give respect back to us.
Then, pay attention to why your kids are not telling the truth.
- Are they worried about getting in trouble?
- Are we being too hard on them?
- Are our expectations too high?
- Are we stressed out so we are taking it out on them?
- Are they trying to get attention, because we are not listening?
- Are they hanging out with friends who lie?
- Do they have low self esteem?
- Are they looking for approval?
- Are they trying to get what they want?
- Are they trying to avoid responsibility?
- Is it to protect themselves or someone else?
- Are they trying to please you?
- Are they testing us?
When our son went through his lying stage, it was new behavior. He hadn’t really done anything like it before. I took some time to try and see if there was an underlying issue.
Next, be an Honest Parent. Kids will primarily do what they see us as their parents do. Do we ever fib? Sneak into a movie? Lie about our kids ages to get lower prices? Pretent no one is home so we don’t have to answer the door? Kids will pick up on these lies. We have to be honest so that our kids will be honest.
Also, we need to teach our children that in our house, honest is the only policy. Teach them that you will be honest with them, and you expect honesty from them. Make this a family rule, and that they are expected to follow the rule, just like you are expected to follow the rule.
Remember, don’t be too harsh. If we are, our children will not feel safe talking to us about what they have done wrong because they will be afraid.
When your child does tell a lie…
1. Don’t accuse them of lying, this will only make them feel trapped and make the situation worse. During our son’s lying phase, I noticed one day that he was biting his nails. I asked him about it and he lied. "I don’t bite them, they just flake off", he said. Yeah right. Instead of continually emphasizing, "I know you are lying, I can see your nails", which is what I wanted to say. I explained that "you probably don’t even realize you’re biting your nails. That happens to mommy and daddy sometimes also. Do you think that is what could be happening?" He was much more responsive to this approach. This also means we shouldn’t call our children a liar. We should always avoid giving our children negative labels.
2. Don’t overreact. If your child knows that you are going to stay calm, they are more likely to tell you the truth. They will never want to tell the truth if they think it is going to get them in a ton of trouble. Stay calm.
3. Be sure there is a reasonable consequence for telling lies. When our son lied about picking up his backpack and shoes, when he really hadn’t, I made him go back and finish the job like I had asked. The punishment fit the crime.
4. Stick to what you know. The facts. "Your backpack is still on the ground, be honest, did you pick it up like you were asked?" "I can see that your nails are very short and that your fingers are red, I expect the truth, have you been biting them?"
After the fact…TEACH
As we talked to our son during his "lying stage", we told him some personal stories about telling the truth and telling lies. He was able to relate to them and see the blessings and consequences that come from our choices. Use stories to teach your children. If you don’t have any of your own stories, George Washington tells a really good one about a Cherry Tree. :) Teach your children that people who are honest don’t lie, you can count on them, they keep their word, they admit when they do things wrong, and they stand up and tell the truth, even when it is hard or unpopular.
Teach your children what happens when they lie. You get in trouble. People don’t want to be your friend. People can’t trust you. It can hurt other’s feelings, etc…
Teach what is real and what is make believe. Kids need to understand the difference between fiction and real life. When our children are honest, praise them, thank them. Reassure them that honesty is always the best policy. I am pretty sure I heard that a few thousands times growing up.
Do you ever pretend no one is home at your house so you don’t have to answer the door? Do you have any fibbers in your house?