Some children lie to stay out of trouble, some to express creativity. Some out of boredom, some to see what happens next. Some out of anger, and some don’t even realize they’re lying at all. As a parent, how do you know when to ignore a lie and when to address it head on? And should you ever encourage fibbing, or should you set up a strict truth diet? When it comes to lying, what do you do when it’s your child?
As kids begin to master language in their toddler years and start comprehending the power it has, they start to test the waters. This can often come in the form of lying. It may be something so insignificant, you wonder why they feel compelled to lie about it at all. It might be a tall tale, a kid version of a fish tale, simply to entertain themselves. Or it could be the never-goes-out-of-style “It was like that when I got here.” Before you react to the lie, try to understand why he or she told it in the first place.
Toddlers in particular do not fully understand the idea of lying; most of the time, they don’t know that it’s wrong. It can be tempting to start teaching lying lessons now, as you want your child to grow up with honesty and integrity as a value, but it will probably be too confusing for him or her to commit to memory.
When children start to transition into adolescence, lies begin to take another shape—mostly tall tales that mix reality with fantasy. Imaginary friends would be a common example of this. If your child is creating imaginary friends and playing make believe, there is little reason to try to curb this behavior. You probably even want to encourage it; it can help your child process ideas and come to terms with things.
As children grow, they are more likely to tell lies to get out of trouble or to avoid punishment. Before reacting, converse with your child about why he or she is lying in the first place. Directly addressing what’s going on can take the fear out of it for your son or daughter.
Set a good example with your children; remember that they learn from watching you. If you wouldn’t want your child to lie in a situation, then you shouldn’t either. If lying becomes a pattern, pay attention to your child’s environment. Is something going on that might be stressing your son or daughter out to the point where they resort to lying to deal with it? Make conversations about lying more about consequences and trust in a relationship instead of accusatory, and reward honest behavior when you see it.
By understanding the reason for the lie and reacting in kind, you can establish a healthy relationship with truth telling and raise children who understand the importance of honesty.