By Adina Soclof
When children lie for the first time, parents can get very upset. They immediately envision a life of crime for their little angel. Parents can rest easy. Lying is a common problem among all children.
Why do children lie?
Children lie to avoid punishment or embarrassment. They can lie because it is convenient. They would rather continue to play with their blocks than get up and brush their teeth so they will lie and tell you they have already done it. Children will also lie because it is a form of wishful thinking. They confuse reality and their inner fantasy world. They like to make their lives sound more exciting and they will exaggerate.
Sometimes, lying is also a form of higher thinking and intelligence. Lying requires more imagination than honesty. In order to lie you need to know what the truth is. Then you need to creatively come up with a new story that will be believable.
Most experts agree that lying is a pretty typical childhood behavior and is usually a passing phase. Children will start lying at age around age 3. The reasons children lie get more complex as children grow older. Lying is generally a strategy that children use to keep them afloat in some way. Younger children will lie mostly to avoid punishment, to get out of doing something they don’t want to do and because they have confused fantasy with reality. In a positive sense, older children will lie to spare another child’s feelings.
Parents should not worry excessively when their children lie. Becoming a moral, upstanding adult takes time and lots of learning from mistakes. Learning to be honest is one of those lessons that just needs to be learned. Punishing children is not the answer, gentle guidance, is.
Here are two ways to gently encourage your child to tell the truth:
- Explain the difference between lying and “white” lies:
In general, young children have a hard time understanding what a lie is and what the truth is. Because children have such vivid imaginations and are at the same time concrete, black and white learners, the whole topic of lying vs. white lies is confusing. Many people believe that white lies are acceptable because they are used for the sole purpose of protecting another’s feelings. Most cultures view it as a form of kindness. It would be beneficial for parents to give a short explanation about “white” lies. You can tell your child about your own experiences, when you had to use a “white lie” to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. For example, if you had to tell your friend that you liked her cake even thought you didn’t because you didn’t want her to feel bad.
- Never push a kid into a place where they have a hard time telling you the truth:
Make sure you don’t ask your children questions that will put them in a position to lie. Asking, “Who did this?” or “Why would anyone do such a thing?” Talk about the incident in a matter of fact way, “Oh no, the water spilled all over the floor! We need to get this cleaned up right away!”
Children need us to help them tell the truth. Being open about white lies and being careful to avoid putting our children on the defensive can help us do just that.