What should you do when children lie?
First, recognize that when a child lies it is a sign of cognitive development! No one is born with the ability to lie. Being able to lie is a step in developing higher thinking abilities!
The ability to lie develops around the age of three. Parents can respond differently based on the child’s age. A two-year-old might not be able to recognize when she says something untruthful, yet a five-year-old is likely to know that she lied when she says she has done her homework.
It is also important to distinguish lying from fantasy, imaginative or pretend play and make-believe. When a child says: “I’m a superman and I can fly in the sky,” this is an example of pretend play rather than lying. Pretend play and fantasy are also considered to be higher thinking abilities!
Even though lying indicates a developmental milestone, you probably also recognize that lying is not a behavior you want to encourage. Your child might recognize this as well. Studies have shown that children as young as four years old will feel guilty for lying.
Regardless of whether your child has or has not recognized lying as wrong, there are many ways to deal with lying:
Let children explain the lie. Give your children the benefit of doubt and allow them to explain the reasons why they said something they know is not true. The reason varies greatly depending on the circumstances. Sometimes the reason can be that they are afraid of something or they are lying to protect themselves or others. Hear them out first and then decide on an appropriate response.
Use positive discipline. Positive discipline centers on the idea that there are no bad children, only good or bad behavior. Instead of saying you are a dishonest child or liar, positive discipline encourages parents to redirect their children’s behavior by saying something like: lying is not accepted, or you hurt mom’s feeling when you lie– and teaching children the importance of telling the truth. By handling the situation in a friendly, respectful way, your child will be supported and encouraged to do the right thing in the future.
Build an understanding of the importance of truth-telling by reading stories such as: Ruthie and the Not So Teeny Tiny Lie by Laura Rankin; The Honest-to-Goodness Truth by Patricia C. McKissack; and The Empty Pot, by Demi
Be a role model. Kids like to imitate parents’ behavior. You can teach your child honesty simply by being honest.