We know that because of their age, the little ones may have a distorted vision of reality, but we must analyze and consider the factors that can encourage children to tell lies.
Let’s take an example:
Just before lunchtime, you open the cupboard and find an empty cookie package. You go into your child’s room and, look, there he is, all covered in chocolate. “Who ate the whole cookie box before lunch? you ask him. It was the dog, mom, your son replies.
We know that these are funny phrases from children, and they are nothing but white lies, and several families experience these at some point. We see our children not telling the truth in silly and not-so-silly situations so we must be aware of it. Is this just a phase? Can lies be something that will determine the values and character of our children?
Some educators argue that lying is part of the child’s development, so it may not mean a problem of character or that it demands so much concern; it is natural and part of their development.
Why do children lie?
When they are little, they tell the little lies without thinking – that is, they really think that is what they said. They believe in their own lies. In early childhood, your little one is living out their fantasies. Therefore, it is difficult to distinguish what is reality and what is not.
But, regardless of age, this type of attitude can be encouraged by other factors such as a way to get parents’ attention, to get what they want, or to add a touch of drama to make the story more interesting. The child can often lie for fear of being punished, and when the parents are very strict, children will often distort the truth to avoid punishment.
It is a way for the little one not to have to hold a responsibility that they are not yet prepared for or that they do not feel good about it.
However, do not think that this is only a child’s doing; parents can actually be modeling this behavior and be the main cause behind the lies of their children, especially young children. A classic example of this is when parents ask their child to answer the door or the phone and say that parents are not there. Or promise something to a child and then don’t do it. Children who witness scenarios where people they live with often lie, start to believe that telling lies is a completely natural thing.
How to avoid lying?
The most complicated factor in relation to lying and the first step to address the issue is to recognize why the child is lying – if it is for some reason that is part of their development and socioemotional life or if it is something else -. In all of these cases, experts recommend that parents take note of the behavior, monitor, address it, and do their best to discourage lies.
As I said earlier, children are influenced by example, especially by their main caregivers. It is through them that the little ones learn proper and not-so-proper behaviors. It is no use to talk about it but not being honest with your child, not lead by example.
Here are a few tips to navigate these situations:
- Create a welcoming open dialogue relationship
If the little one understands that they will be punished every time they speak the truth, they will most likely lean towards lying to avoid punishment. Therefore, it is necessary to cultivate a relationship of trust with your child so they feel comfortable telling you the truth no matter what. You have to be thoughtful about it, if and how you’ll discipline your child for lying because if you always punish them, they will be afraid, to tell the truth, feeling there is has no space for it, and no reason to do so if they always get punished.
- Avoid too many questions
Having a conversation is different from interrogating, questioning. Drowning the child with questions, too, will not make them comfortable to talk about what is happening, especially if your goal is to unmask them. You can ask openly in a way you avoid accusations like, “Tell me what happened so I can understand?” and give them the opportunity to think about what would be a better action.
- Explain the consequences of lying
It is useless to say several times that it is not good to lie if you do not explain to the child why they need to speak the truth. It is best to have a conversation and talk about the consequences of telling lies. It may sound silly, but trust and telling the truth is also an essential tool to prevent and raise awareness of sexual abuse. It is about security, protection, and above all, trust.
Small lies invented by the little ones will happen anyway, so it is important for caregivers to always address it with the child when they realize a lie is being told, no matter how harmless it may be.