As parents there are things that we all experience, no matter what. Having our child tell us a lie is one of the unavoidable, and universal, parts of parenthood. So it’s important to understand some of the reasons why children lie and the developmental markers that go along with it.
Kids lie to their parents for a variety of reasons – wanting to avoid punishment or disapproval, wanting to protect themselves or others, wanting to gain attention, or simply not understanding the concept of lying.
When managing this behavior in our kids, there are 3 important things to keep in mind.
1. A child’s age determines a big part in lying behavior
Age plays a big role in the reason, and the way our kids tell lies.
- In preschool aged kids (2-5 years old), lying can be a part of imaginative play or a byproduct of big feelings they are learning to manage.
Rarely do children at this age lie to be deceiving. More often they are testing boundaries and asserting their newfound independence. For these young kids, it’s important to help them understand what lying is and why it’s not a positive behavior. Using instances of lying as teachable moments is much more effective than punishment.
- For school aged kids (6-8 years old), they have a good understanding of what lying is and will usually use it to avoid getting into trouble, doing something they are challenged by or another negative consequence.
It’s also common at this age for kids to lie as a way to see just how much they can get away with, similar to the boundary testing they do as preschoolers.
For parents of school aged kids, continuing to talk about the importance of honesty, and modeling honest behavior at home, is the most constructive way to address lying.
- Adolescents (9-13 years old) may use lying as a way to seek more independence and autonomy. This is also the time when a child may lie because of social influences and the need to feel accepted by their peers.
At this age, straightforward and frank conversations around lying should continue to happen. As kids begin to understand the concept that there are different kinds of lies, and the way social behavior plays into lying, conversations can turn more toward the consequences of lying in the larger world.
2. Try to look beyond the lie
For most kids, lying is a response to a situation where they are feeling scared, worried or overwhelmed. If you suspect that your child is lying, or has been caught in a lie, start an open and calm conversation about why they felt the need to lie.
What was their motivation to lie? How can you work through that situation and help them understand why lying was not an effective response and what would have been better?
It’s also important to know that given their age, a child may simply not realize or understand the concept of lying. In these instances, it’s the perfect time to help them learn! You can read books about lying and talk through different situations where a lie is told.
3. Establish a relationship of trust and open communication early on
For children who feel comfortable talking to their parents about hard, scary feelings or situations, the need to lie decreases.
Establishing a relationship of open and honest communication, where kids feel seen and safe to express themselves without fear of punishment, creates an environment where lying is just not necessary.
Often the fear of punishment will prompt the lie so set the expectation that if they come to you, are honest about their feelings or situation, the next step is a conversation and possible consequences but not immediate punishment.
It can be easy to see lying as a purposeful act of defiance but for most kids, and in many situations, lying is a normal part of childhood.
Children will tell lies for different reasons at different points in their development but if we can establish a relationship of trust and open, safe communication early on, they will feel comfortable coming to us during hard situations. Their need to lie will be lessened.
We, as parents and caregivers, help our children learn about lying from an early age. As their first guides and teachers, we can help them understand why lying is not a positive behavior and the consequences of telling lies.
However, if you’re struggling with lying behavior and having a hard time coming to a positive solution, it’s ok to reach out and ask for help. We have Social Workers on staff at Beyond Speech Therapy Specialists who can help you, and your child, work toward positive behavior solutions.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to us at (779) 435-0724 or click here. We would love to help!