Dr Martine Prunty
Dealing With Kids When They Lie
Updated: Sep 29, 2021
It can be very confronting the first time our child lies. Parents are capable of resisting this notion for a year or so too long. The reality is, that from the age of 2, children become aware of when it is and isn’t going to benefit them to tell the whole truth. Or even a close version of it.
Keep in mind that lying is a very normal part of child development. It tends to bother parents more because of the beliefs they hold about the sorts of people who lie as adults and a fear that their child may end up on that trajectory. Or that because we as adults know that honesty is crucial in a healthy relationship, that our child lying to us may signify a problem in our relationship with them. Rest assured that this is not the case, and concentrate on the opportunities lying can bring up for you to teach some life skills.
Children can sense from quite a young age what will be pleasing or not for their parents to know. Further, when they sense they could be disciplined they tend to get better at lying! It can be confusing for parents when they finally obtain a truth that requires a consequence because it reinforces a child’s belief that they’re better off lying. In these circumstances I suggest you thank them for telling the truth and validate how difficult confessing would have been, knowing you would not be happy. Then rather than punishing the behaviour they have just admitted to, focus on what they would like to do to make it up to you (or whoever they have hurt). Further, it isn’t very productive to insist on an admission when you know the truth. It is far more beneficial to all involved to state what has happened and move on to help them make it up,
How can kids make it up? Obviously, this depends on their age, as younger kids won’t need to make amends. We have all insisted your child say “sorry” but as your child develops this is a futile effort. Instead you could ask them how they would like to make it up to you, or make the situation better. This is also an area that you could assist them in with some brain storming, whilst also enabling to them to take some responsibility for their actions. Most importantly, it teaches them that telling the truth will not always land them in strife but can provide an opportunity to remedy a mistake.
Like in any learning situation, always remember to acknowledge their point of view so they feel understood. This means that you are proud of them for telling the truth, even though they knew you would be disappointed and they would potentially be in trouble; that it can be embarrassing to have to admit to something they may be ashamed of but that you will always try not to get too angry if you can see they are being honest. And instead of thinking of your child lying as a bad thing, consider it a developmental milestone