10 Ways to Deal with Lying in Young Children

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Tired of your little one's little white lies? It's not the big deal you may think it is. Lying is extremely common among children around preschool-age, and that's due to some interesting reasons. Check out these tips on dealing with a young child who has some trouble telling the truth, and you'll learn a few interesting psychological tidbits as well.

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By Lisa Medoff

Frustrated by a young child who just can't keep her story straight? Don’t be! Lying is normal and extremely common in preschool-age children. There are many reasons children lie, and some will surprise you. Read on for tips on how to deal with a young kid who lies, and learn some bits of truly fascinating child psychology too!

Be Clear

Your child may not know the difference between lying and make-believe, so it’s your job to help her understand. It will likely take repeated efforts over several months. Be specific and brief. Say, “A lie is when you say something happened when it didn’t really happen. I need to you tell the truth, which is telling me about what really happened.”

Eliminate Causes of Lying

Avoid situations that may cause your child to lie. For example, if your child tends to break fragile objects and lie about what happened, keep such objects out of her reach. Young children often lie because they feel bad about what they have done, and they think that if they lie, they can make it so the event did not actually occur. Psychologists call this “magical thinking.”

Don’t Accuse

Be tactful when your child has done something wrong—guide her toward truth, not lies. For example, don’t ask, “Did you take your sister’s bunny?” Instead, say, “I wonder where your sister’s bunny went. Can you help me find it and make her feel better?” Young kids’ thinking is very simple, and they’re often concerned only with avoiding getting in trouble, not the concept of morality.

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Focus on the Positive

While your child tells a story, point out the parts that are true, and gently note which parts are made up. Some children are very creative, and they just need help learning how to express their imagination in a way that’s not misleading to others. Ask for the truth, but encourage her to pretend when she plays with toys or draws a picture.

Reward Honesty

Some kids think the best way to get attention is to lie, so look for situations when your child is being honest and give attention for that behavior instead. Think of telling the truth as something that takes effort, similar to behaving in school, showing good table manners, or cleaning up at home, and praise your child accordingly.

Use Punishment Wisely

Correcting and teaching your child are far more effective than punishment. But if you feel that there must be consequences in order to stop her lies, use consequences that relate to what she lied about. For example, if your kid says she didn’t eat the cookies even as there’s chocolate on her lips, keep cookies and other sweets out of the house for a week or two.

Talk About the Value of Truth

When you talk about lying with your child, make sure you are teaching her why honesty is so important. Talk about why people need to have correct information to make informed and fair decisions, and why it is important for people to trust one another.

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Find Books About Lying

Check your library for stories about lying and its consequences. Read these stories with your child and talk about what happened to the characters. See if your child can identify lying as you go through the book.

Allow Some Leeway

Kids are going to make mistakes. Preschool-age kids have bad memories and may not remember the details of an occurrence, and they subconsciously fill them in with lies. Let your child know that it’s okay to make mistakes, as long as she admits them and tries to fix them.

Practice What You Preach

Be aware of your own tendency to lie, even when your lies are meant to spare the feelings of others. Young children can’t tell the difference between a selfish lie and a lie that’s meant to protect someone. Your kid looks to you as a role model and will copy your behavior, though not necessarily with the same intention.

Lying is yet another issue that makes parenting as complex as it is. Be patient while your young child goes through this common phase, and do your best to work with her to correct it.

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