When young children lie it can cause great concerns for parents, as well as negatively affect family life and relationships. For pre adolescents, lying is sometimes a strategy used to avoid punishment, control a situation, or for attention. There are several things that parents can do to not only discipline children who lie, but more importantly teach them to tell the truth and take responsibility.
From the earliest ages, parents need to model truthful behaviors, and be especially mindful of what most consider those little white lies. Children are very adept at picking up on those subtle situations and cues. If a child hears Mom talking on the phone and telling someone they can’t make a meeting because one of the kids isn’t feeling well when actually the child is just tired from a sleepover, a child learns that lying to suit personal needs is acceptable.[afflink]
Parents should be mindful to acknowledge situations where someone told the truth, even though it must have been difficult. If a parent asks, “Who broke this?” and a child truthfully takes responsibility, it is really important to focus on that. This doesn’t mean that a child who is truthful is not held accountable, it means that children have to know that telling the truth is safe and the best choice, and that the consequences are exponentially larger they lie in addition to misbehave. When children tell the truth, even though it is obviously scary or intimidating to do so, parents need to remember to praise them for the courage that it takes to be truthful and responsible.
Siblings will often go through stages in their relationships where it is easier to lie and blame the other than it is to take responsibility, and parents can have a difficult time knowing who to believe. In these situations it is sometimes necessary to give consequences to both children. It is imperative that parents don’t appear to be choosing sides or favorites, as this will only add to the tension of the situation. A parent can tell the children that it is not fair to anyone because one of them is obviously lying, and it is affecting everyone, but a consequence still needs to be held. Parents can also give children an opportunity to be alone together and talk about the situation just between siblings.
Siblings should be taught and encouraged to work together as a team throughout their childhood, but lying and blaming can cause great division in those relationships. Parents should work to foster positive relationships, giving the kids ample time to bond, through playing games, family outings, and play time at home together.
For parents, sometimes it is extremely easy to tell when a child is lying, and other times it can be totally unexpected, and sometimes never known. If a parent suspects a young child of lying, it is first important to not jump to conclusions, but to ask lots of questions. Often phrasing the same question in different ways will bring the real truth to light. This should not be done in an interrogating way, but should instead be done in a calm manner. Parents can look for inconsistencies and details that might not support the situation.
The best way to teach children not to lie is to teach them how to tell the truth. Parents can use opportunities when a child has been hurt by a lie to illustrate how a lie affects people, and they can also talk about consequences for choosing to lie. Children should be reminded that when they lie to or about someone, they are really cheating themselves, and at least one person will always know of the lie.
Your friend and fellow parent,
Parenting Coach, Author & Speaker