Understanding why children tell lies and how to discipline in a way that fosters honesty and healthy development.
“My room was full of flying dragons last night, they knocked over the books, not me!”
Children often tell fibs, stretch a tale and blame mysterious creatures for misbehaviour.
Lying, is actually a sign of intelligence.
While it’s healthy and a normal part of growing, lying is sometimes inappropriate.
Your child may need guidance and positive discipline to learn when it’s okay to get creative with fibs and when they are expected to tell the truth.
Many parents worry that if their child tells many tall tales and fibs often about what happened at pre-school, cheat on board games to win or try to hide a mishap that their child will grow up to be dishonest.
If your child is lying all the time and they are still quite young, rest assured that this is perfectly healthy.
Most children go through a very imaginative phase and get creative to try and get what they want. Children as young as three might start telling lies and between the ages of four and six your child may have a spike in telling fibs and tall tales.
Teaching Kids the Value of Honesty
To help children learn the value of honesty and integrity, it’s important to understand the different types of lies that are common and how you can provide positive guidance.
Not all lies are created equal
Your child might be telling lies for different reasons. Young children don’t lie because they are inherently dishonest or bad.
- Children create fantasies and use their imagination as part of play and learning.
- Children engage in lies to fuel wishful thinking.
- Children tell lies to cover up difficult feelings.
- Children may experiment with lying to avoid punishments or consequences.
- Children sometimes lie because they don’t want to disappoint you.
All of these lies are words strung together to create a reality in your child’s mind and world.
Recognising the type of lie your child is telling can be a really powerful window into your child’s mind and their needs.
Sometimes children tell lies as a bid for connection, to get closer to you, to share in their wishful thinking and even to process events in their life.
Telling stories with “Flair and Flavour” is actually a sign your child’s imagination is flourishing!
Aiming to understand your child’s motivation will give you the best path towards dealing with the lies.
Decoding and Disciplining When your Child Lies
1. When your Child lies as a means of exploring fantasy and their imagination
“I just saw a hippopotamus cross the street and put on a purple hat and blue sneakers” or “There is a space alien living inside my closet and he likes to eat pizza and chips.” These lies are fantasies, stories, imaginative play at its very best! These types of lies are commonly told by preschoolers and are an exploration of reality and fantasy.
What to do: These lies can be left alone or simply used to fuel an imaginative conversation.
Asking questions like “And what else does the alien like to eat?” or “Did the hippo also have socks on?” Show your child that you are interested in their world and help them develop their imagination.
What to Avoid: Try not to tell your child they are being ridiculous or stupid and avoid phrases like “there is no such thing, quit lying” as it can crush their creativity and these fibs are actually very healthy expressions of play.
2. When your child tell lies as expressions of wishful thinking
“At my friends house their mom said I can have ten pieces of candy and don’t need to brush teeth.” Such lies are reflections of what a child is wishing for, basically an alternate reality where the child’s ideas and will is in charge.
What to do: Acknowledge the ideas behind the lies while also offering alternatives that are empathetic and reflect your values.
In this case it might sounds like “oh ten pieces of candy would be delicious and tooth brushing can take a while. I care about you and your teeth. How about two pieces of candy and we can sing a song while we brush teeth?”
When you are correcting a fib or tall tale, it’s a great opportunity to highlight your family values. It’s also perfectly alright to set a limit in a kind and firm way.
Make sure your child knows you are listening and truly seeing his wishes.
What to avoid: Try not to lecture or tell your child their wishes are unimportant.
Unless you suspect that a lie pertains to some serious matter like injury or damage to property, avoid threatening to check up with the other person in the story, in this case, the other mom.
3. When your child is Lying to avoid punishment and or consequences
Often children will lie to get their way, to make sure the outcome is to their favour or most commonly to avoid being punished.
“I found that vase already broken when I came into the room.”
A common sign that the story offered is a lie is that it goes on and on without any prompting.
“I suppose the wind from that window over there could have knocked it down, I actually went ahead and closed it up and drew the curtains shut to avoid anything else getting knocked down…”
Don’t Do This if Your Child is Lying
Calling your child a liar or demanding the truth and immediately punishing is likely to teach your child to just be sneaky the next time around.
Avoid phrases like “stop being a liar and tell me what happened….” or “tell me why you did this right now and then you are grounded until tomorrow.”
That approach creates a very negative cycle of communication. It’s likely that your child will tell more lies to avoid any kind of punishment. There is a more positive and helpful way to help your child learn to tell the truth.
Try This Instead: It’s Effective!
If you know that your child is lying and they have acted in a way that has broken, destroyed or otherwise harmed something or someone it can be really beneficial to just listen at first.
Ask in a sincere way, “What can you tell me about this broken vase?” to start a dialogue. If you have encouraged your child to tell the truth in the past it is likely that they will once again cooperate with you.If you have used punishment in the past, it’s never too late to look at positive alternatives.
Show your child that honesty is valued in your home.
Make it even more clear that you will not be punishing your child for telling the truth, even if they admit to having done something wrong. Instead make it clear that honesty is something that you value. Show your child you are willing to guide them and help them tell the truth.
The next step is to follow-through with your words (otherwise it would be modeling how to lie) and find an appropriate solution with your child.
- How can you help your child repair the situation?
- Can your child fix or replace the broken item?
- How can you encourage your child to make amends for telling a lie and to whoever may have been hurt by the lie?
Trust your child’s ability to learn the value of honesty, problem solving and to do better next time.
Solutions you can count on for the long run
Would you like to understand your child and fill your parenting toolbox with effective, positive ways of dealing with misbehaviour? Our online positive parenting course is self-paced and you can join today. I will personally walk you through many proven positive discipline tools, answer your questions and help you get back to feeling confident when any kind of misbehaviour shows up. Come join me in our online classroom!
Peace & Be Well,