Why kids lie
Why kids lie
By Gill Canning
Nobody wants their child to lie but the truth is, just about every kid will tell porkies at some stage or another. So, what are the best and easiest ways to deal with it? When do they start lying?
The earliest age a parent can expect to hear untruths is as soon as a child starts to communicate, according to Karen Spitzer, educational and developmental psychologist at Kids First in Brookvale, NSW. “At preschool age, they might be telling tall tales but they don’t understand it is wrong,” says Karen. “For example, they might tell you they saw a dinosaur walking down the street. This shows imagination and it’s important not to suppress that. It’s a developmental stage where they’re learning the difference between fantasy and reality. “Kids this age – and older – might express what they wish to be true. You can say something like ‘there wouldn’t really be a dinosaur but wouldn’t it be great if there were?’ “Or if a child says ‘I can ride my bike at 100km an hour’, you could say ‘You wish you could ride it that fast’. At this age, it’s about injecting some reality but not quashing their ideas. “When they go to school, they begin to understand that the concept of lying is wrong. So between the ages of about five and eight, you can start to put into place rules and discipline around it.”
Karen Spitzer says there is a range of reasons children lie: “Children might lie because they are trying to avoid punishment, to impress others, to boost their self-esteem, to get something they want or to protect their friends or family. “Often, kids lie because they hear their parents lie and can perhaps see the benefits of lying. “It’s important to discuss with your child and try and get to the bottom of why they told a lie because you may be able to help change the reason for the lie, i.e. change the environment.”
What should parents do?
If possible, set the boundaries and consequences of lying before it rears its ugly head. This means talking about honesty when everything is calm and good. Ask your children “what’s going to happen if we are not honest?” Make sure they understand the consequence of lying – both in terms of deceiving others and in terms of any punishment you might feel appropriate. It’s obviously also important to be a good role model yourself. Children model themselves on their parents so if we are telling them lies habitually, we can hardly blame them for copying us. However, if your child admits to a lie, Karen Spitzer advises acknowledging their confession: “You can give them a consequence for the lie and still praise their honesty.” What about if you catch your child out in a lie, before they have a chance to confess? “Be wary of confronting them about the lie - they might well make up another lie to cover the first lie, which can lead to bigger problems. Then parents can get even more frustrated and you don’t want to get angry and label them ‘liars’,” says Karen.
Spot the lie
“Look at their facial expression,” advises Karen. “When kids tell the truth, they’re pretty relaxed. If they’re lying, they can look quite anxious. If they’re lying, their sentences may not quite make sense and may be inconsistent. Also, lies can sound rehearsed.”
Compulsive lying can be closely tied with self-esteem and confidence,” says Karen Spitzer. “If there is something going on at school or home, or they don’t feel happy or listened to, it may make them feel better to lie. “Try to go past the surface of the lying – go underneath it and deal with the issues. “With all children, it’s helpful to remind them that lying breaks down friendships, connections and trust. Explain to them that if they keep lying, it will be harder to make friends and if they forget what lies they tell, they will get into more problems.” If you are afraid your child is a habitual liar and you don’t feel you are getting on top of the situation, it may be wise to seek professional help from a psychologist or family counsellor.
We’ve all done it – lied to save someone’s feelings - but kids have trouble telling the difference between ‘white’ lies and ‘real’ lies. Older kids may understand that occasionally it can be preferable to lie to avoid hurting someone’s but this distinction is difficult for younger children. Rather than trying to explain this, let them know they can say something ‘neutral’ rather than telling a lie. For example, instead of telling your friend with the hideous new haircut that she looks great, you could say “That’s a new look for you!” Not a lie but not mean, either. With practice and patience, your kids may catch on and follow your lead. And lastly, if your kids catch you out in a lie, come clean and admit it. Say something like, “Thanks for pulling me up on that, I should not have done that.”