Lying, this is a very emotionally charged topic. I see so many parents getting very upset about lying. It is seen as a horrid character flaw. I'd like to share with you why I don't think we need to get so upset when our kids lie.
Is She Crazy??
I know what you are thinking, I bet some of you are thinking I must be some loosey-goosey parent whose kids walk all over her and lack discipline. Nope, ( I mean they are kids, they try to get away with stuff, but believe me, I am “The Meanest Mom Ever” on at least a weekly basis!) I understand the reason behind many lies and I try to not put my kids into positions where they feel the need to lie. Obviously, I don't like lying anymore than the next person, but I think kids look at lying in a much different way than adults see it. Also, I think they lie much differently than adults too.
We all know we do it, most of us only tell “white lies” Lies that don't hurt anyone and maybe save some hurt feelings. Maybe you make up an excuse to not attend an event that either you are not interested in attending, don't have the money for, or you know someone you don't want to spend time with will be there. Maybe you are embarrassed about something so you avoid it coming up in conversation, even if it means you fib. These type of lies are not damaging to others, they are not tearing down another person.
Kids typically tell lies to “get out of trouble” but there is so much more behind that reason than you think!
Most young children will tell lies when they have done something wrong. Most adults assume it's to “get out of trouble”, but for the most part, it's really more about trying to make you happy. Kids do not want to disappoint you. They want to tell you what they think you want to hear. Your children know that breaking a rule will upset you. They do not want you to be sad or angry. Many kids really believe that if they tell you a “story” about what happened they have the power to change it. They believe in magic and make believe often up to age 10 or 11, (many believe in Santa at that age, and that is a lot of magic to believe in!) Older kids that understand magic better still tend to just want to please you. Yes, they are trying to get out of trouble, but it's often more to avoid the anger and disappointment they know that you will feel. They have a hard time understanding that you can still love them when you are angry.
I have talked to my kids often over the years about how you can be angry with someone but still love them or still be there friend. I wonder how many adults also have this problem. It can be difficult to have such conflicting feelings. No one likes to cause someone else to be disappointed in them, and when you think that they might stop loving you, even for a little while, that is enough to make many kids lie. Harsh punishment often causes more lies. Be someone that your child feels comfortable coming to for help when they are in trouble or hurting. If they can't come to you, they will find someone, and you don't know who that will be.
What can you do?
There are some simple things that you can do to avoid lies and help you children develop a healthy relationship with the truth.
- The first thing I tell parents is to never ask a question or know the answer to! Instead of “Did you…?” try asking “Can you tell me what happened?” Guilty kids will pause almost every time. Explain to them that you know it's hard to talk about things that we wished hadn't happened and if they aren't ready to talk you can wait. If you child tells you an obvious lie and the situation is important, explain that you can see that it's still hard to talk about and that you can figure it out together.
- If your child is telling you fantastic stories about things that happened, (“I saw a purple horse this morning in our yard.”) You can do a few different things, you can say “Wow, you are very creative! You tell great stories!” Some kids will get upset that you called it a story, but others will be fine with it. If you child insists that it is true, it's highly possible they had a dream about it and it felt really real. There is not real reason to make a big deal about it in the moment. This would be a great time to start talking about dreams and how our mind tells us stories when we are asleep. Also tell them that it can be hard to know what is a dream and what is reality.
- If your child tells tall tales, help record them. Write them down or record your child telling you these stories. Giving them this outlet can help them differentiate the “lies” from the truth.
- When you child breaks a rule or does something “wrong”, try not to have a big emotional reaction. If we work with our children to solve problems and come up solutions together they are much less likely to feel the need to lie to us. They won't fear us, they will come to us for help. (For more tips on problem solving check out this link)
- When in a heated conflict with your child about a lie, try to walk away and calm down. It's very hard to solve a problem when emotions are high. When you and the child have calmed down, try suggestion #1. Avoid blame and try to explain that you are just trying to understand the situation.
Remember that kids usually lie to avoid disappointment from you in them. They really want to please you. They do not want to make bad choices, they are just not always good at picking the lesser “bad” choice.