Lying in Young Children: What to Do as a Parent

Lying in Young Children

Young kids are adorable and pure. Their innocent mind makes us love them more, and that is why as they grow up, we often wonder ­–how do they learn how to lie?

Well, it is not a mystery. Young kids are known for sincerity and honesty, even to the point of embarrassment. They never cover up for anyone’s feeling, that is why they are truthful about their parents and other people. You could quote that, ‘they always say their mind’.

That is why young kids find it difficult to lie convincingly.

Here’s a short story:

Mummy leaves a book and a pen on the kitchen table; she goes out to get some groceries. Mary’s curiosity gets a hold on her, and she picks up the book and starts drawing on mummy’s book. Mummy returns to find her book in disarray (in a disorder manner).

Mummy is displeased and grumpy. Mummy asked Mary if she played with the book, but Mary denies it. Mummy is smart and she sees ink stains on Mary’s palm. She also knows Mary’s drawing style. Question; WHY DID MARY LIE?

 Young kids might lie or say things that are false but as a parent or guardian, should you freak out or immediately react or resist the urge to get upset and punish your kid?

As kids grow up, parents should expect kids to lie at some point. Lying should certainly never be overlooked. That dishonesty isn’t an excellent character that one should grow into.

Kids certainly do not always think before acting, so they don’t anticipate consequences. But they will respond to an angry look and how upset you sound. So, they try to lie their way through situations, but faulter sometimes.

They often fail when asked further questions or follow up questions. But as they progress in age, they understand the need to match the answer to follow up questions to their lie.  

At what age do they start lying?

Every child is different, but studies have shown that from age 2 and a half year and above, they start to lie. Also, children lie more at age 4-6 years. At this stage, they have a brief sense of right and wrong.

Their cognitive mind is developing, and they explore their curiosity. Below are major reasons for lying.

  1. Fantasy and the brain: This one often happens in toddlers. Kids have an imaginary world of creativity. Their perception to the things around them isn’t fully developed. So therefore, they could say that ‘they saw a monster with the face of a clown hiding behind the door’ or ‘I went to the moon last night’. Those are fantasies and stories that seem exciting to that child. And most of the time, they speak before they think. They could assume that they did not commit an act while they did. This is a result of short-term memory. These are examples of lies of omission and partial truth.
  2. Cover up tactics against punishments: Most of the time, kids tell a lie to cover up mistakes. And since they observed how upset their parents or guardians are, they would want to maintain a beautiful state of peace and avoid punishments. 
  3. Kids lie to look good before others or make another look bad. This includes their friends at school or siblings. E.g., a kid might claim to have a motor car while in reality, he doesn’t, just because his other friends are bragging about owning one. They could brag about things just to get attention.  
  4. To get something: Kids often try to play smart by lying to acquire things. For example, a child saying that he hasn’t taken any sweets or chocolate just to get his parents to get him one while he actually gotten one before.
  5. To avoid responsibility: Children run away from chores and responsibilities. As such, one could pretend to be sick to avoid going to school, etc.

When kids show a little dishonesty, there shouldn’t be a cause for alarm. However, when lying becomes a regular occurrence, it could become a bigger problem.

How to handle a child that lies

Lying in Young Children
  1. Take out time to calmly talk with your child. When you are calm, there is a lesser tendency of attacking the personality of the child but instead addressing the situation.
  2. Once you have understood why your child lied, express the consequences for lying rather than punishment. It is easy to react and punish a child, but first explain the consequences to the child, i.e., why lying at that point was wrong and how it relates to the situation. That way, they understand the need to be always truthful.
  3. Give appropriate punishment that equates the mistake committed and a reward system for truth-telling. And when your child owns up to a wrongdoing, praise your child.
  4. Model the truth: Parents play a vital part in influencing the norms of morality in a child. Children are quick to copy what they see and hear. They reflect behaviours from their parents.
  5. Make your child feel comforted in telling you the truth. I hear most kids say, ‘I was scared that you would get angry or punish me, that is why I lied’. If a child is only worried that you will be angry, he might avoid telling you the truth. Parents must consciously make efforts to make their children feel comfortable in telling the truth. They must know that they can talk with their parents without losing their affection and love. Research has shown that children are less likely to tell the truth when threaten with punishment for lying.
  6. Mind your language: Avoid been judgmental in the heat of a moment. Kids are sensitive, and as such, be mindful of the words used.  Avoid blaming them or calling them a ‘liar’.  For example, you could say things like ‘You are usually very honest with me, but I just can not understand what else could have happened to the last chocolate bar’.

Research has also shown that when a child believes that his parents think he is a liar, he just might not bother to tell the truth even when right because they would not believe him.

In conclusion,              

As much as we want our kids to always tell the truth, parents must realize that telling lies is a natural part of growing up. With warnings and extra consequences, a child can be groomed rightly. 

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