Dealing With Children's Lies
It seems that no matter how parents teach their children the importance of honesty, their children lie anyway. How important are these lies?
Honesty is a crucial issue of family life. And yes, sooner or later all children will tell a deliberate lie. It's a natural part of growing up. The real significance of a child's lie depends on his or her age, the intent of the lie, and how often lies are told.
How does age affect honesty?
Children as young as 4 years old tell deliberate lies to get out of trouble. Up to age 8, fear of parent disapproval will discourage lying. Adolescents react more to the consequences, so they need to have logical consequences for lying. Not until a child is a teenager does he or she begin to understand how lying destroys trust. These are abstract concepts, and abstract reasoning does not develop until this time.
Why do children lie?
The child's first lie is a significant separation tool - they are establishing independence from parents. The intent of the lie is an important factor. Making up things is a product of fantasy, and is perfectly normal in young children. Often, it is an attempt to understand what is real and what is imagined. The parent helps clarify the real by talking with the child. But lying to deliberately mislead or deceive is more serious; and should result in immediate, appropriate consequences.
What are appropriate consequences for lying?
Harsh punishment is not appropriate, because it only creates a fear of punishment. As always, the consequence should relate to the misbehavior:
- Lying about homework can result in no television.
- Lies about where the child was after school results in coming straight home.
- Lies of omission, like driving while drinking, should result in no driving privileges.
Be matter-of-fact about the lying - think "consequences," not "punishment."
What about a child who lies frequently, even when he or she is caught?
Children can be such good manipulators that adults are impressed with their "honesty." In fact, the child may be asking for help. Children who are chronic liars can grow into deceiving adolescents and adults: theft, scams, etc. Decide if the child lies 1) too often, and 2) for the wrong reasons. If the answer is "yes," an evaluation by a professional is an important step in the right direction.
For more information on parenting children, call 553-3000 or toll-free (877) 553-3001 or email email@example.com
Reprinted with the permission of the Heartland Family Service. © 2008 Heartland Family Service
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