How children lie – Children’s lies are not worth condemning. According to psychologists, this character trait belongs to them at any age, but it will only get stronger when they enter adolescence. The question is how parents handle this. A good attitude and setting an honest example are extremely important because over time this will determine the child’s later honesty.
There is a big difference between lying and lying: with children, we prefer to use the former term, but after a certain age, these small untruths can turn into lies.
According to NPR, “lying in early childhood is an important milestone in cognitive development.” This habit is part of human nature, but children and teenagers lie especially a lot. Let’s see which age is characterized by what!
2-3 years old: the lies of young children
Young children lie for many reasons, none of them malicious. According to child psychiatrist Elizabeth Berger, children at this age do not yet know the difference between “reality, dreams, desires, fantasies and fears.” They may be too young to know that lying is wrong, the line between play and reality is simply blurred.
Sometimes children lie just to express something they wish was true. “Strong emotions can lead a two- or three-year-old to claim, ‘He ate my cookie,’ when the little sibling has clearly done no such thing,” says Berger.
You can do the following:
- Praise their imagination and storytelling. Over time, this will help them distinguish between fantasy and reality.
- Help them identify the feelings behind the lie with statements such as “it sounds like you want your brother to play with you.”
- Help them avoid “trouble” by saying, “Your books are on the floor. Put them back, please.” This is more effective than a question that invites them to lie: “Have you taken all your books off the shelf?”.
- Teaching about the importance of telling the truth always falls on deaf ears.
This is how preschoolers listen
As children become more talkative – and become more aware of situations that can lead to punishment – their lies may become more frequent. They may be lying because they wish they hadn’t done what the parents are mad at, or because their imaginations are running wild.
When Kimball Lewis, CEO of Empowering Parents, was asked for advice on dealing with childhood lying, he said, “Don’t treat lying as a moral issue—treat it as a behavioral issue. When your child lies to you, it’s natural to feel betrayed and angry. But here’s the truth:
LYING IS A NORMAL CHILD BEHAVIOR PROBLEM. YOU HAVE TO DEAL WITH IT, BUT FOR MOST KIDS IT’S NOT A CHARACTER FLAW OR A MORAL ISSUE. RATHER, IT IS AN IMMATURE AND INEFFECTIVE WAY FOR A CHILD TO SOLVE A PROBLEM.”
In order to discourage eavesdropping, always emphasize the importance of honesty, set an example of honesty, and help your child understand the consequences of lying. Deal with the lie immediately after the incident so that the memory is still fresh even in it.
At this young age, it is still advisable to question untruths! The child will not be offended or resentful of it. They may often surprise you by admitting the untruth.
When children are in early elementary school, they may lie to push their boundaries in this way—Berger says that’s because “the rules and responsibilities at this age are often too much for a child. As a result, they often lie to appease forces that seem to demand more performance than they are capable of at this age.”
Parents can expect lies to pop up about school, homework, teachers, and even friends. Although children are getting better at covering up lies, they are still relatively easy to spot. The lie that there is no math homework can often be quickly debunked.
- Even at this age, continue to talk openly about the importance of honesty and avoid putting the child in a situation where he has to lie.
- Let her know that you won’t be angry as long as she tells the truth, whatever the truth may be – and keep that promise.
- Encourage them to put themselves in the other person’s shoes by asking, “How would you feel if your best friend lied to you?”
- Notice and praise your child when he is being honest, especially if that honesty doesn’t necessarily work to his advantage.
At this age, your response to a lie may become more direct. Victoria Talwar, Associate Professor in the Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology at McGill University, advises:
“In response to a lie, be firm and serious and say, ‘That sounds like you’re not telling the truth,’ or ‘Are you absolutely sure that’s what happened?'” Make it clear that you won’t fall for the lies, but move on with dignity after listening and gently correcting the child if necessary. However, avoid further confrontation with the child or excessive search for the truth, unless the situation is serious and the topic requires more attention.”
This is how 9-10-year-olds children lie
When a child reaches the threshold of adolescence, the transitional age when they are no longer a child, but not yet an adolescent, the reasons for the lies begin to change. As dr. Psychologist Jeffery Bernstein writes in Psychology Today: “Teens and teens may lie to try to avoid trouble, to protect a friend they like, or they may lie because they are too bullied to talk about painful experiences, such as rejection by peers. The best thing you can do as a parent is not to overreact to your child’s lies. If you overreact, you’re just building a bigger barrier between you and your child, who doesn’t feel safe enough to open up to you.”
During adolescence, experts advise parents to resist the urge to get personal. It is important to reassure the child that you will not be upset or punish him for what he says and keep your word. Remain impartial and try to explore the deeper emotions or fears that led the child to lie – without shame or judgment.
Empowering Parents says, “Focus on the underlying causes of the behavior, not the lie itself. Children usually lie to avoid getting in trouble for doing something wrong.” Of course, don’t ignore the lie, but rather focus your energy on understanding and interrupting the behavior that causes it.
AT THIS AGE, YOU CAN ALREADY EXPLAIN THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN “REAL” LIES AND “CHARITABLE LIES”,
with which you want to spare someone’s feelings. Any time the child admits that he lied or did something wrong, praise him for his honesty.
Little teenage lies
Due to the rapid rate of physical and emotional changes during adolescence, teens feel more vulnerable than ever. They may lie to fit in, to create an outward appearance of confidence through growing feelings of insecurity, or to feel special or less awkward.
They may defy parental rules by lying, and they often lie because of social pressure to represent their appearance a certain way or to participate in certain activities that seem ‘cool’.
Or they are simply not telling the truth because they are in a transitional stage of development where they are moving away from their parents in pursuit of independence, while still being drawn to them for their parental connection and guidance. But they may also lie “because they feel they can” – to reinforce their own sense of personal autonomy and authority. And, of course, to avoid or delay the consequences of their actions.
Challenges of adolescence
According to a study on lying published in Science Direct, teenagers lie more than any other age group. (Other studies have reached the same conclusion.) Dr. Nancy Darling, chair of the psychology department at Oberlin College, who has been researching teenage lies for more than 20 years, has identified three main categories: avoidance lies (about topics they don’t want to talk about), lying of omission (ie omission of key information) and lying of commission (deliberate, obvious lying).
The most common reasons teenagers lie are: to escape trouble, to do forbidden things, to protect their privacy, to establish their independence, or because they think that their parents’ rules are unfair to them.
At this stage, Bernstein says, it becomes increasingly important to “be aware of the difference between lies that cover up risky behavior, including drug use, and smaller, everyday lies.”
A 2017 longitudinal study of adolescent honesty found that warm, trusting child-parent relationships (particularly maternal relationships) were associated with reduced adolescent lying (and alcohol use). Their data highlighted the “advantages of supportive versus overly restrictive parenting.” In layman’s terms, teenagers are more honest with their parents when they feel they are loving and supportive; and they are more likely to lie when they feel overly controlled and supervised.
One of the best things a parent can do with teenagers is to encourage open, non-judgmental communication.
IF TEENAGERS ARE NOT AFRAID OF BEING SEVERELY PUNISHED, THEY ARE MORE LIKELY, TO TELL THE TRUTH.
THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT THERE SHOULD BE NO RULES AT ALL: CLEAR BOUNDARIES SHOULD BE FOLLOWED WITH REASONABLE CONSEQUENCES.
Kimball Lewis of Empowering Parents suggests that behavior and lying have separate consequences. “If the child comes home late compared to the arranged cover-up, and then lies about why he was late, give two separate consistent punishments: one for the failure to cover up, and another for the lie itself. So the next time your child misses the cover-up, they can choose to be honest and get only one punishment, or lie and face two consequences.”
And don’t be afraid to tell your teen that when you made a mistake or did something wrong, how you told the truth to fix the situation. For example: “I made a mistake in a report today. I was worried about him, but I told my boss straight away instead of waiting for him to find out.” If they see that you also set an example of honesty, it will encourage the child to follow your example.