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Why Does My Child Lie?
Sara's mother enters her bedroom and asks if she has seen her iPhone. Ten year old Sara says, "No, I haven't seen it." She continues to read a book quietly while her mother walks out of the room, shutting the door behind her. Sara had the phone hidden under her pillow, but she didn't want to face her mother's anger. Lying gave her time to think of an excuse, perhaps to sneak it back into her mother's purse.
Even though this is a serious lie, and most likely Sara will be found out, it does represent what most children do in similar situations. It is developmental; and, nurturing guidance through the growing years promotes skills such as independence, self-control and honesty. Parents should not over react to situations thinking their child is a potential con artist.
The greatest prevention of habitual lying is to set a good example as a parent and to have an open mind and listening ear to your child's statements. Knowing how to handle the lying will help both you and your child to get through the developmental stages of lying successfully.
What Is A Lie?
According to Sissela Bok, author of Lying, lying is an intentinally deceptive message in the form of a statement. In her book, she asks the reader what it would be like to live in a world where truth telling was not a common practice. She states that you would never be able to trust anything read or told. We depend upon others telling us the truth.
Most people believe lies destroy trust. Telling the truth is important in personal relationships and for the good of society in general. Lying misinforms those lied to and may prevent them from making a good decision. Disappointment and skepticism result from those who are deceived. Lying is a failure to communicate effectively and honestly.
Lies have the following features:
- Communication of selected or approximate information
- Intended to mislead or to deceive
- The liar knows he is not telling the truth; they believe what they are telling is an untruth
Helpful Parent Resource
The Tangled Web
O what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive. —Sir Walter Scott
When a person lies:
- The liar has to remember the lies told and must act in conformity with the lies.
- More lies may have to be told to avoid being found out
- His or her credibility is diminished
- If the lie is discovered, they are less likely to be believed in the future
- Personal integrity is corrupted
- It may become a habit
- Lying is used as a means to an end, it is concerned with one achieving a personal goal beneficial to them alone. It is selfish.
Good people do not lie.
What is your opinion?
Is lying moral when there is no other recourse and it is done to protect an innocent person?
Reasons Children Lie
When a child is two years old, telling a little lie may be cute. However, when a child is seven and lies to her parent, it often causes a parent great anxiety. Undoubtedly, it is cause for concern, telling the truth is important, especially when it is between parent and child, but lying is also developmental.
Morality is not innate for children, although some philosophers would argue to prove otherwise, they learn through experience what is acceptable and good. Their character develops through observation of adult behavior, especially that of a parent. And believe it or not, children enjoy the challenge of discovering what is standard social practice. Lying is one of those traits children learn to overcome as they understand truth telling defines good character.
It is almost an automatic response to a parent's questioning. For example, the dad who yells, "Who tracked mud all over the carpet?" will probably hear their kid reply, "Not me!" I know I said this as a child, and can remember saying it even when I knew I was guilty. The child simply desires to protect themselves at the time.
Anxiety or Fear
If the consequences to lying are physical or verbal abuse, the child will lie out of fear. The anxiety related to this type of response is high and self-inflicting due to the worry and stress of knowing what is to come as a result. Punishment is unfavorable in these circumstances, positive discipline is what is needed to provide guidance.
Remember when you told your mom that you had already done your homework and you knew it never came out of your backpack? Why do children tell such outright lies? It may be due to the child's inability to comprehend the subject. Failure is a possibility so why fight it? Or, they simply just don't want to do it.
Movies geared towards teens favor themes surrounding social acceptance, especially through lying. The popular issue of being "da bomb, wicked, cool, bad, etc." among friends is vital at this age. Scripts follow a character who finds himself lying to achieve the approval of peers, but usually they end up discovering out how wrong it is to lie.
The Authoritarian Parent
A parent who believes they must control their child by restricting activities, actions or relationships deters their independence. Often an older child or teen will rebel and resort to lying to gain freedom and normalcy in social interactions. However, most will feel a sense of guilt about sharing an untruth in order to gain these privileges.
What's Good For The Goose Is Good For The Gander
If a parent role models honesty and integrity, a child will pick up these virtues and adopt them as valuable character traits. Children listen to their parents converse with others and pick up on actions or phrases that are "little white lies" or hear them brag about how they got their way. For example, did you boast about how you outwitted the cop from giving you a traffic ticket? Weren't you speeding? This sets an example for a child: lying is sometimes okay.
Lies: Developmental Stages
0 - 3 years
Lies are honest mistakes. Often told to protect themselves or to pacify adults.
3 - 7 years
Exploring their world and differences between pretend and reality. Tall tales and imaginary friends are sometimes used to cope.
5 - 10 years
Begin to understand what it means to lie. They desire to know and tell the truth. Often will monitor truth telling of friends and family.
They know when they are telling the truth and when they are lying. Lies are told to fit in and to win approval of peers. They will lie about lying.
Great Truths Children Have Learned
- No matter how hard you try, you can't baptize cats.
- When your mom is mad at your dad, don't let her brush your hair.
- If your sister hits you, don't hit her back. They always catch the second person.
- Never ask your 3 year old brother to hold a tomato.
- You can't trust dogs to watch your food.
- You can't hide a piece of broccoli in a glass of milk.
- Don't wear polka-dot underwear under white shorts.
- Never hold a dust-buster and a cat at the same time.
- The best place to be when you're sad is grandpa's lap.
Source: Orange Peel Gazette
Book Resource On Telling The Truth
Guiding Your Child To The Truth
The truth hurts for a little while, but lies hurt forever.
- Eileen Parra
Role model honesty. Kids are pretty good observationist and know when they are being lied to or when something is not quite kosher.
Remain calm when addressing the issue. Your anger will cause your child to focus on fear and not on the issue. Do whatever it takes to present a tranquil manner. I often take a few deep breaths and say a prayer before confronting any type of problem. It works.
Talk about it. Discuss how you feel about the situation. Don't accuse them of being a liar. Calling a child a liar may put a label on him or her and may lead to habitual lying. And, you may be wrong. If an untruth has been said or demonstrated, talk about why it is wrong.
If a lie was told, allow your child to feel remorse. Give them room to regain composure. Talk about how they could have handled it differently.
If your child refuses to tell the truth, don't try to force it. This will only cause them to back away from you, forming a barrier that will build as fear and resentment. Let them know how you view the issue and give them time to think it through.
Overall, your child may be trying to give you a message. Perhaps his routine or activities are too structured. Perhaps she needs structure and guidance. For example, not enough play time before bed, a need for stronger limits in personal activities, or a strong desire for parental attention may be cause for lying.
As one mother recently shared with me, "Parenting is tough. Having to deal with lying is so draining. I know it is part of her growing up, and I only want what is best for her: to define herself well."