Children can learn to tell lies from an early age, usually by around three years of age. This is when your child starts to realise that you aren’t a mind reader, so he can say things that aren’t true without you always knowing. Of course, as your child gains more independence, he may take advantage of it by pulling a fast one from time to time.
Children might lie to:
– Cover something up so they don’t get into trouble
– See how you’ll respond when you hear them lie
– Make their story more exciting or make themselves sound better
– Get attention, even when they know you know the truth
– Get something they want – for example, saying to grandma, ‘Mum lets me have sweets before dinner’.
An occasional lie about homework, chores or tooth brushing, while aggravating, is not unusual at this age. The best response usually is to simply express your displeasure. But if a tween lies chronically, he might need professional assistance to sort things out. “Children who are anxious, who feel that they can’t handle some kind of situation, may lie,” says Dr. Berger. “It could be a sign of any number of stresses that the child is under.” It could also be the sign of a smart kid who finds lying a convenient tactic.
Here are some ways to create a safe environment for the truth:
1. Be aware of how you respond to misbehavior in general. If your kids are worried about being punished or yelled at when they mess up, they won’t feel safe telling you the truth. Practice using your calm voice (although it can be hard at times!) and focus on solutions that will solve the problem instead of assigning blame.
2. Allow your child to save face. Don’t give your child the opportunity to fib by asking questions to which you already know the answer. For example, instead of asking, “Did you finish your homework?” try, “What are your plans for finishing your homework?” If your child hasn’t completed his homework, he can save face by focusing on a plan of action rather than inventing a story.
3. Focus on the feeling. When your child is being dishonest, try to understand what made him feel that he couldn’t be honest with you. Instead of calling him out about the lie, try, “That sounds like a bit of a story to me. You must have felt afraid to tell me the truth. Let’s talk about that.” You’ll get the honesty you’re looking for, as well as information that may help you foster the truth in the future
4. Acknowledge and appreciate honesty. Express encouragement when your kids tell the truth. “That must have been difficult for you to tell me what really happened. I admire your courage for telling the truth. You are really growing up!”
5. Celebrate mistakes. Think of mistakes as a way to learn to make better choices in the future. If kids know that you won’t be angry or disappointed when they mess up, they’ll be more likely to share honestly. To respond, simply say something like, “That’s a great opportunity to learn for the future. If you could have a do-over, what would you do differently?” If your child’s actions negatively affected another person, ask what needs to be done to “make it right” with the injured party.
6. Reinforce unconditional love. Make sure your kids know that while you sometimes don’t like their behavior, there isn’t anything they could possibly do that would change your love for them.
7. Watch your white lies. Remember that young ears and eyes are always tuned in. Whether you’re failing to correct the barista who gives you too much change or making up a story about why you can’t volunteer at the school fundraiser, remember your actions set the example for acceptable behavior.
By following these guidelines, you’ll soon notice a sharp decline in the lies your kids tell. What’s more, you’re showing them that no matter the situation, everyone benefits from the truth.