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What To Do When Kids Lie

When Kids Lie

It is always shocking the first time your child or charge lies to you. Parents often wonder where they’ve learned this behavior, and fear for their child’s future. Responding to lying is something every parent or nanny (or human) will need to do properly in order to build honesty.

A great article on the subject is Children Lie parents should teach them not to, but the truth is fibbing is normal. from Slate By

“When kids lie, it’s not a sign that they’re on the road to delinquency—it’s a sign that they are developing important psychological skills.”

When interacting with children, I like to remember that people will raise up to your lowest expectations. Its much better to remind kids that they are expected to be honest, rather than labeling them as dishonest, as they will likely prove you right. Walking this line can be hard as  a parent or childcare provider. Here are some tips from Hey Sigmund that we found extremely helpful. In the article When Children Lie, Karen Young offers the following pieces of advice:

  1. Listen more than you talk.

    All children want to do the right thing, but sometimes they need the freedom to make their own mistakes. Make it safe for them to explore this with you. ‘I know these things can happen sometimes. Can you talk to me about how this happened?’ Explore what they’ve learnt or what they might do differently next time. You don’t have to fix anything. Just be a steady presence and give them the space  to figure things out by.

  2. Reward truth telling.

    Provided remorse has been shown (because we don’t want to encourage psychopathy, now do we), let lesser consequences, or no consequences, be the reward for honesty.

  3. Make lying the ‘crime’ above all others.

    Whatever happens, whatever mistakes are made, whatever stupid decisions prove to be, well, stupid, let lying be the thing that draws the heaviest consequence. ‘You’re not in trouble because you put on the zombie apocalypse movie instead of the Disney one. You’re in trouble because you lied about it’.

  4. Have them promise to tell the truth – and build them up for that.

    Talwar’s research has found that children who promised to tell the truth were more likely to be honest. When you’re getting this commitment from them, they still need to feel that their honesty will be handled gently.

  5. Don’t overreact when they tell the truth.

    So they’ve really messed up. You’re gritting your teeth to stop yourself from yelling so loud it registers as a blip on the satellite. But – they’re telling you what they’ve done, and that’s huge. Nothing is more important. The more they can trust that you can handle the truth without losing your mind (which can be hard, I know!), the more they will trust us with the truth. It will mean the world to them if you acknowledge what it must have taken to be honest with you, ‘It must have been really difficult for you to tell me that. It means a lot to me that you had the strength and courage to do that.’

  6. For privacy.

    Respecting their privacy is a way of saying, ‘I know you have a life that is separate to me, and that’s okay. I trust you.’ When they are old enough, they will find a way to have their privacy with or without your support. If you don’t respect their right to privacy, they will take the choice out of your hands and use lies to keep you out. Of course, if you have a good reason to suspect that something is going wrong, then all bets are off.

  7. Have fewer rules but make sure you enforce them.

    Children will be more likely to lie if they believe the rules are unfair and unnecessary. Research shows that they will be more likely to obey the rules that they believe are fair and within the rights of parents to control. These generally include rules around their health and welfare such as drinking, drugs, hitting, swearing, wearing seatbelts. When it comes to areas that are more a matter of personal taste, (music, what they wear, activities, how they spend their money, what they do with their room), let the them have some control and freedom to make their own decisions. The children of parents who do this seem to lie the least. Rather than lying about 12 things, it seems to drop as low as 5. They’ll still lie, but not about as many things, and more likely not the important ones.

  8. Consider an amnesty.

    Sometimes, the need for the truth will outweigh everything else. This is particularly the case when you suspect their safety, or the safety of one of their friends might be at risk. In these situations, your teen might be feeling shame, fear of consequences, or a need to protect their friends. Understand this, and let them know that nothing they tell you will land them in trouble. If it’s important to them that things don’t go further than you, respect that. Your loyalty is to your child more than to anyone else. If you fear someone else is at risk, talk to your child about the risks of keeping quiet and work with them to find a way to keep everyone safe that won’t compromise them.

  9. Be alive to the pressure they’ll feel from friends – and don’t ask them to choose.

    All kids want to be liked and accepted by their peers. The drive to feel a sense of belonging to a ‘pack’ is enormous. This is evolutionary. For many animals in the wild, being excluded from the herd would have put them at the mercy of predators and the environment. It would have meant certain death. This is how it feels when our children, particularly as they get older, face the prospect of being excluded. It feels like death. The threat of this can be strong enough to sway them into making decisions that aren’t their finest. Of course, they need to learn to say ‘no’, but this is something that will need to be learned and nurtured. It took time for us to learn too. Acknowledge this and share stories of the times you also felt pressured to lie when you were younger. They need to believe that being honest with you won’t hurt them or see them cast into the social wilderness.

  10. Be open to negotiating with them.

    If your child believes that you are always unwilling to compromise, they’ll be less likely to try. One of the reasons kids lie is to avoid the hassle of the negotiation, particularly if it is something that feels important to them.Always hear their argument and try to find a win for them in there somewhere, so your teen doesn’t walk away feeling as though you have all the power and they have none.

  11. Don’t threaten to punish them for lying.

    Research has found that kids who are punished for lying are more likely to lie in the future, than those kids who are guided towards the reasons why it’s important to tell the truth. In a study involving 372 kids between 4 and 8, researchers found that kids were more likely to lie when they were threatened with being punished, and more likely to tell the truth when they thought it would make an adult happy with them. They are learning whether or not they can trust you. It takes courage and strength to tell the truth. Whatever your child did wrong, recognise they’re pretty wonderful humans for having the strength and honesty to come to you.

  12. Don’t trap them.

    Always give them an opportunity to do the right thing and to tell the truth. They always want to, but sometimes ‘doing the right thing’ won’t be at the top of their list until it has to be. Trapping them will only lead to shame, and that won’t be good for anyone.

  13. Look for the reasons behind the lie and respond to that.

    A lie can sometimes contain the gold you need to connect with your child and understand what’s happening in his or her world. If your child is suddenly lying more often or more intensely, it may be a sign of problem behaviour and an attempt to keep control over something that feels out of control. Kids will only do what makes sense for them. They don’t want to disconnect and they don’t want to disappoint you. They never do the wrong thing just for the sake of it. Their behaviour will always be an attempt to meet a need. The need will always be a valid one, even if their behaviour is a massively messy attempt to go about it. Listen to their words, pick up on their feelings and let that guide your response.

  14. Be okay with a bit of conflict.

    In Darling’s research, it was found that in families where there was less lying, there was also more arguing and complaining. What’s vital here is that the child felt that they were able to speak openly and honestly. Curiously, twice as many adults (46%) as teens (23%) rated the arguments as more damaging. For teens, even if they weren’t agreed with, being heard was important. Of course it is possible to have too much conflict, but what matters is the way it was resolved.


To read more, check out Hey Sigmund or email us at info@adventurenannies.com