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How to Deal with Lying and Encourage Honesty
By Dr Victoria Samuel The Parent Support Service Supernanny Expert 26/02/2008
Why do children lie?
All children lie occasionally but a variety of different reasons may prompt them to tell tales:
• Very young children do not understand the difference between what is the truth and what is not. Therefore, preschoolers'’ ‘lies’ often stem from innocent fantasy rather than deliberate deception. Children at this age frequently engage in ‘wishful thinking’: your little one says he didn’t hit his sister because he wishes he hadn’t, not because he is deliberately fibbing.
• Children often lie in an attempt to hide something they know they have done wrong in order to avoid the shame of disapproval and the negative consequences they anticipate adults will impose.
• Lies may also be used by children to avoid the inconvenience of adults’ rules e.g. lying about having completed homework in order to be able to go out to play.
• Children with low self-esteem may embellish the truth, brag or exaggerate in a bid to impress others or in an attempt to fit in with peers. Similarly, children who are feeling insecure may invent scenarios to try to get adults’ attention and interest.
How to encourage honesty
1. Calmly name the issue but don’t demand confessions
Don’t ask questions about behaviour if you already know the answer! Trying to force your child to confess is rarely effective: most children (and adults) will lie to protect themselves when put on the spot.
For a preschooler whose comments reveal a blurring of reality and fantasy, calmly tell them that you know what they are saying is untrue: “I know you’d love a pet cat, so you were imagining we’d got five kittens?
If you know your child is lying to avoid getting into trouble calmly describe the problem: “I see you got pen on the wall, how can we sort that out?” If possible, avoid lecturing or criticising your child as this tends to be counter-productive, leading to defensiveness and more lying.
Give your child the chance to make amends. For example, if you know they’ve not prepared their bag for school, don’t ask them: “Have you packed your bag?” (which just invites a lie). Instead, briefly describe the problem: “I noticed your bag isn’t ready.” Or better still, invite them to take responsibility: “Please show me your bag when it’s packed.”
Never call your child a liar; negative labels such as this can erode self-esteem and lead to self-confirming behaviour. Similarly, it is not helpful to bring up past transgressions “This is the third time you’ve lied about this”.
If you catch your child telling a blatant lie, tell them you know they’re not being honest: “I know that isn’t true. It’s normal to worry about telling the truth if we’re afraid we’ve done something wrong, but lying isn’t helpful. Let’s see what we can do solve the problem”
2. Try to understand why your child is finding it hard to be honest
It’s important to think about why your child feels she needs to lie. Perhaps yo...