Kids seem to be able to lie about even the most inconsequential things. They’ll lie that they’ve brushed their teeth when they haven’t. They’ll lie that they’ve only had one cookie when you saw them take five. They’ll look you in the eye and say “it wasn’t me” as they stand next to the broken glass they just dropped. They lie even when getting caught is almost inevitable.
Learning to deceive is a skill learned early in life. Toddlers learn quite early to use fake cries to get our attention. Although studies on why children lie have found that lying is a common and widespread behavior in children between the ages of four and 18, persistent lying seems to have an impact on social outcomes.
In one study, the lying and disruptive behavior of 1,128 boys and girls was recorded for three years at ages six, seven, and eight, and then again at ages 10 and 11. The study found that although disruptive behavior did not increase with age, kids who lie persistently are more likely to display disruptive behavior.
Although the results are still inconclusive, some studies suggest that early and persistent lying may predict delinquency and other forms of maladjustment later in adulthood. According to this study, deceptive behavior increases with age and increases the chances of risky behavior, especially during the adolescence stage.
When lying becomes a problem
Lying is a normal human trait. Although we need to teach kids that lying is unacceptable behavior, it is often harmless. The most common reasons that kids lie are fear of consequences (for example punishment) and the belief that lying will get them what they want. There are a few occasions, however, when we need to pay attention to our kids’ lies:
- When kids constantly lie.
- When kids show no remorse when they’re caught in a lie.
- When kids also display other behavioral and psychological problems (e.g., low self-esteem, violence, and depression).
- When kids don’t get along with others (e.g., siblings and classmates).
What to do when kids lie persistently
1 | Be an authoritative parent
Lying becomes a habit when kids fear the consequences of admitting the truth. A considerable amount of evidence suggests that raising kids in punitive environments is likely to foster dishonesty.
Being an authoritative parent means being both firm and receptive. It means setting high expectations but being flexible and willing to see things from your child’s perspective. The truth isn’t always black or white. Being an authoritative parent means knowing when, where, and how to negotiate with your kid. Kids are less likely to feel the need to lie when they are raised in a warm and understanding environment.
2 | Calm down, then react
Reacting in the heat of the moment will only aggravate things and scare kids. When you react in anger, you kid is more likely to lie the next time to avoid the consequences of telling the truth.
3 | Remember that everyone lies for a reason
When you think about it, getting your child to admit that he licked the chocolate cake isn’t really that big a deal. Instead of playing detective, get to the bottom of why your child persistently lies.
Sometimes children lie for complex reason. The only way to effectively stop a child from lying for good is to understand why he feels the need to lie and to address those reasons. Understanding why kids lie can also help you teach your kid why lying is really not the best option – and what he can do instead.
4 | Be clear about your stand on lying
It’s important to let kids know where we stand on lying. Be clear about the consequences. It’s also important to know that kids also learn about lying from our actions. When we praise our friends to their faces but talk poorly about them behind their backs with our kids present, they hear this and they learn.
5 | Avoid labels
Labels tend to stick. When you label your child a “liar,” she could begin to view lying as an integral part of her nature. Instead, let your child know that you think of her as an honest person. Say, “I know you’re going to tell me the truth” or, “I know you want to tell me the truth.”
Powerful tips to make it easier for your child to tell the truth
According to the book “Nurtureshock: New thinking About Children“, kids want to tell the truth. The next time you catch your kid lying, try out the following strategies:
1 | “I’m going to ask you a question. But before I do that, do you promise to tell the truth?” There is scientific evidence that asking young children to promise to tell the truth can greatly reduce lying.
2 | “I will not be upset with you if you did wrong. If you tell the truth, I will be really happy.” According to the authors, this really works because kids lie when they think lying will make their parents happy. When we tell them that the truth will please us more, they’re more likely to tell the truth.
We teach our kids that we value honesty primarily through our actions. Be sure you’re setting a good example and remember: They’re always listening!