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What to Do When Your Kid Always Lies
You hear the crash and run into the living room. Your favorite vase is scattered across the floor in several pieces. Your child is standing over it and the only person in the room. “Did you break my vase?” You ask, knowing full well the answer. He shakes his head. “Not me, mommy.” While your 6 year old may not be on the road to pathological lying, he has crossed the line into the lying zone.You hear the crash and run into the living room. Your favorite vase is scattered across the floor in several pieces. Your child is standing over it and the only person in the room. “Did you break my vase?” You ask, knowing full well the answer. He shakes his head. “Not me, mommy.” While your 6 year old may not be on the road to pathological lying, he has crossed the line into the lying zone.
According to Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman’s book: “Nuture Shock: New Thinking about Children”, 98% of children believe that lying is wrong, yet 98% of them lie to their parents1. Yikes! But before you order that lie detector to install in your house, guess what- they adopt their lying tactics from you!
Why Kids Tell Lies
Kids witness their parents lying and see them escape from it
Kids aren’t the only ones who lie – parents tell them lies all the time, like Santa Claus bringing presents on Christmas Eve and the Easter Bunny hiding eggs in the garden for an egg hunt- seriously- how would a rabbit even pick up an egg, much less carry it somewhere? Their parent may even lie when they lovingly greet Uncle Marvin and later, out of his company say how they really don’t like him because he drinks too much. Kids notice this stuff. And they pick up on it. A child whose parent lies will lie themselves because they view it as acceptable behavior2.
Kids lie so as to take the shortcut to meet others’ expectation
Your child loves you and loves being loved by you. They may believe getting a “F” on that math test will make you think less of them and they will hide the paper or even throw it out so that you won’t see it. When you ask about the test, you may get a mumbled “I did fine” or “Okay.” They are lying because they don’t want you to be disappointed in them.
Punishing them for lying only makes them lie even more
No one wants to be punished. No TV for a week, loss of their favorite game system or worse. If you find your best necklace hiding in their sock drawer and they know that owning up to taking it means facing a week or more of being grounded, they will try and think of a way to wriggle out of facing the consequences for their actions. Kids will lie in order to circumvent a punishment.
Kids lie to protect someone
Though younger kids are more apt to tattletale on friends, families and any child they catch doing something wrong, older kids will lie to protect their friends from facing punishments and consequences. They don’t view this behavior as wrong3 if they are protecting someone from getting into trouble.
People Who Don’t Lie Are Less Stressed
Life is difficult enough without getting caught up in a sticky web of lies. Studies4 show that people who lie less – refraining from even those little white lies, have better mental and physical health. They face less illnesses and feel less stressed. But if kids continue to lie, this can lead to lying as an adult and also cheating.
How You Can Stop Your Child From Lying
Give your child a better chance at a healthier and happier future by nipping their lying habits now.
Avoid lying when your kids are around
Start your kids off by becoming a good role model. Stop fibbing. Curb those white lies. Let ‘honesty is the best policy’ become your family motto. And yes, investigating with your child exactly why there is a bunny associated with eggs may be eye-opening for both you and your kid.
Let them know that lying is wrong
Little kids may not know that lying is wrong. They may see it at home or at school. And they are certainly bombarded by advertisements promising better lives and happiness if certain products are used. Sit down with them and talk about how lying affects lives and why honesty is important for everyone.
Create a loving home environment
Giving your child a safe-haven from the world will help to develop a mutual trust. And when your child trusts you, they are less likely to lie. Communicate with them on all subjects and let them know that they can address any topic with you- openly. If you personally feel that you can not discuss a something with them- like sex- have a trustworthy relative or family friend with whom they can broach any subjects that you cannot. Sometimes it’s easier for your child to talk about very personal subjects with someone who is not a parent.
Don’t punish them for lying
Know that lying is not the problem. Find the reason why your child felt the need to lie. Was it to protect someone, for fear of disappointing you, fear of punishment or something else. If you direct your attention onto the lying then according to Life Coach Allie Irwin at The Science of People, you are “teaching that lying is bad but also that getting caught is bad too.”5 You need to teach them that honesty is the best way. Praise them for their honesty when they tell the truth, even when it means they have to face the consequences of their actions.
Control your reactions
When your child tells a lie and you know it, like if you found alcohol or other substances in their room, and they deny knowing about it, do NOT go ballistic. Keep calm. Control your knee-jerk reactions. If it’s serious and you unable to keep your cool- walk away and don’t discuss it until you can control your emotions. When you are calm enough to address the situation, give them the opportunity to tell the truth again- with no repercussions for lying. Losing your cool can spiral the incident into slammed doors and heightened secrecy. Keeping cool may open future communication avenues between you and your child.
Don’t set them up to lie. Don’t play the interrogation game.
Think before you ask a question. Asking if they took out the trash may be setting them up for an auto-response lie. Instead avoid the questions that garner yes/no answers and reword them. Instead say: “I noticed the trash is full. What should we do about it?”
Let them know that mistakes happen
No one likes to make mistakes, yet everyone does. All people are imperfect. Let your child know that the “F” on the math test is not the end of the world- he may start showing you all of those test papers! Let your daughter know the broken vase was an accident and accidents happen. Show your kids that they don’t need a reason to lie.
Beware of This Mental Disorder: Pathological Lying
Pathological lying or lying compulsively is a mental disorder sometimes linked to a childhood trauma, like an abusive or dysfunctional family, or they lived in fear and needed some way to protect themselves6. Some children lie impulsively and can’t control their lying, others like to create fantasy friends and imaginary lives to escape their own.
If not addressed, pathological lying can become habitual and escalate out of control. Pathological lying is detrimental to a child’s development. Seek the advice of your doctor, therapist, or counselor if you suspect your child has a pathological lying disorder.
So next time your child starts to spout a lie, stop them with a helpful “are you sure about that?” reminder to keep them on track, keep your cool, let them know everyone makes mistakes, and that they can discuss anything with you.
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