Tip of the Day
Children and Lying
How to react when your child lies
-Dyan Eyebergen, childperspectiveparenting.com
Young children do not discern between make-believe and the real world. They will often be guided by their imagination to tell “lies” in an attempt to test boundaries and ensure the security of their environment.
Older children do not necessarily lie in order to get away with something either. What they say in response to a demand for the truth may be a variation on what took place based on their perception of the situation. Take an adult circumstance, a car accident for instance; if there were 10 witnesses it would be highly unlikely to get the same exact story about what actually happened from all 10 people. The recounting of details would depend largely on an individual’s level of observation and how it impacted them emotionally.
When children do blatantly lie to cover up the truth, parents need to concentrate less on the lie, and more on dealing with the situation at hand. This approach facilitates moral development in children by promoting honesty as a valued choice.
• Young children need to be given guidance and reinforcement about telling the truth. Accept the invitation to enter into their magical world and test the validity of their make-believe by asking rhetorical questions: “I wonder if Harold (the child’s imaginary friend) is just saying he took your sister’s toy because he doesn’t want you to get in trouble? If that’s right, you can tell Harold it would be OK for you to tell the truth; I will help you deal with the consequence of taking your sister’s toy.” If the truth isn’t forthcoming, impose a consequence on Harold: “Harold will not be allowed to go into your sister’s room anymore today; he has to learn not to touch your sister’s stuff.”
• Instead of concentrating on getting to the truth of every matter, concentrate on the problem itself. For example: if it is thought that your child ate all the snacks you bought for school lunches and he swears that he didn’t, don’t dwell on getting to the truth. The snacks are gone and drilling him about whether or not he was the one who ate them will not make them magically reappear. Enlist your child’s help in figuring out solutions to make the snacks last the week. Consequently, don’t go out and buy any more school treats. If they are gone by Wednesday, there will be no more until the next time you go grocery shopping. Lunches will unfortunately be a little boring for the next few days. In this instance, a consequence is imposed as it directly relates to the situation. Everyone in the house gets the message that when the school treats are gone, there won’t be any more until grocery day. And, in the off chance the child you suspect that ate all of the treats was not the one who ate them and it was a sibling, false blame was not placed on an innocent child.
• Concentrate on when the child does tell the truth – no matter how small those truths might be. Value the child’s honesty and appreciate how difficult it was for him to tell the truth when he knows he would get in trouble for doing something he shouldn’t have: “I appreciate you telling me that you made crank phone calls with my cell phone. Now you have to make amends for that. What do you suggest?” The child could call the numbers cranked and apologize for his actions.
• When it comes to the really big stuff – when people are going to be hurt morally, physically or emotionally if the truth is not told – give the message that telling the truth will give the child a free card out of parent-imposed trouble. You may still have to work together to find solutions to the problem and natural consequences might occur due to the nature of the situation, but do not impose extra penalties. “It was right for you to tell me that your brother hid and got stuck in the heat duct while playing hide and seek.” The scare this would inflict on children would be consequence enough for them. This way you highlight the importance of telling the truth, and value your child’s moral sense of knowing that it was right to tell it.
Dyan Eybergen, a child and adolescent psychiatric nurse, has more than 10 years experience working as a therapist and parent educator. Eybergen currently resides in St. Albert, Alberta, with her husband and three sons. Out of the Mouths of Babes is her first book. For more information visit www.childperspectiveparenting.com.