Children lie for a variety of reasons. As they grow, children realise how they can get around by telling few simple lies. Though mostly harmless at an early stage, if not corrected, a child’s behavior can progress to a compulsive lying behavior. In such cases, children start lying out of habit or unconsciously.
Before we delve into how to stop this behavior, we must understand why young children lie.
Why Do Children Lie?
- Excessive fear of parent’s reactions, rebuke and criticism often encourages children to lie. When parents overreact and are too harsh, children start to hide things, which might get them into trouble.
- When children catch their parents lying, they model the same behavior.
- Children also lie out of wishful thinking. For younger children, aged between 2-4years, the distinction between fantasy and truth is rather blur.
- Sometimes kindergarteners lie to shield their parents from their dis-appointing behaviors. They are well aware of their mistakes and so they prefer lying, simply to save their parents from the pain of disappointment.
- Sometimes children lie to get attention (read make up stories). They do not realize that their story, centered around another family member or friend, reflects on other people’s behavior.
What to Do When Your Child Lies
Surely, wishful thinking and harmless white lies can be ignored and need not to be pressed further. But when children lie out of fear or to hide their behavior, parents really need to ponder. Some gentle parenting is required, to start with.
- Be thoughtful about your child’s age. Sometimes a lie is nothing but a blurred boundary between fantasy and reality. So, when your child says he saved his pet by flying like a superhero or his friend has a pet unicorn, you can let it pass. Listening is just enough in such cases.
- Introspect your behavior when you catch your child doing something naughty. If you are too critical or yell easily, chances are that your child will lie out of fear to cover up her mistakes next time.
- Look behind the lie. Sometimes children lie because they do not want to engage in that specific conversation. For example, my son, when asked what he ate at school, will always say ‘Aloo Parantha’.
- Be your child’s first pillar of support. When your child is assured that no matter what I am going to be loved, he will be less likely to lie. Mistakes can be corrected, if we accept them. Lay emphasis on fixing mistakes rather than highlighting them.
- Refrain from lying yourself. Children learn a lot more from watching you. So next time when you are tempted to lie to a friend over phone, watch out. Your child is listening.
- Accept when you lie. If you forgot to keep a promise or lied to your child that you will take them to amusement park next week, own up instead of making excuses.
- Never use heart breaking words like ‘ I am so ashamed/disappointed of you’. Target the behavior, not your child. Do not label your child. Address the emotions behind the lie.
Children between the age of 5 and 10 years start understanding what lying really is. It is at this time when you should start laying emphasis on building their character. Love, empathy, kindness, and support really go a long way in building honest behavior.
Simple activities to demonstrate how lies are self-harming can help young children understand and deliver a powerful message on honesty.
Fun Activities to Build an Honest Character
Pinocchio Story Lesson Plan
Read Pinocchio’s story to the children and discuss how lying got him into trouble
Make a face on a simple white sheet. Every time the child lies, add lego on Pinocchio’s nose to depict its growing longer.
It’s a fun activity and helps reinforce that lying is bad.
- Take an apple and cut it into half.
- Every time a child lies, she/he has to rub the apple half on the floor.
- End of the day, keep both apples in zip pouches with labels ‘What lies do’ and ‘I tell the truth’.
- Let the apples sit in a box away from sunlight for 2 weeks. Show the apples to children after 2weeks.
- While the bag ‘What lies do’ do not change initially, after enough time has passed the apple inside it starts rotting. That’s exactly what lying does to us. We do not realize the consequences immediately though all the time it rots us from within.
Post this activity, tell children that telling lies makes us a bad friend and a bad child. Eventually, no one will trust us and much like the apple, we rot (get weak) by lying.
- Take a clean white napkin.
- Tell children that every time they lie, a drop of ink will be added to the napkin.
- Now, invite a child to add another color to the ink spot to cover it. Does it disappear? It will only make the spot messier.
- Now, tell children that telling truth is similar to soap which cleanses germs off our skin.
- Wash the napkin with soap. The spot will disappear.
Conclude the activity by explaining that when we lie to cover a lie, it only gets worse. Telling truth is the only way to correct a lie.
Kids start lying either when they start presuming the negative reaction to their behaviour based on prior experiences or simply for the sake of fun. Either ways, lying needs to be addressed appropriately and timely before it turns into a compulsive behavior.