It can be upsetting when you catch your childin a lie, however before you respond, it can be helpful to think through a few things.
Here are a few things to consider:
- Young children: Young children aren’t lying to you to be manipulative because they still blur the distinction between reality and fantasy. The lie can represent a wish (e.g. I didn’t eat the cookie) and preschoolers tend to make up tall tales as part of normal play. You can always check with your preschooler to see if they understand the difference between make-believe and reality, but it can be helpful just to know it’s a healthy part of development.
- Tips: If you approach young children with anger, then they will be more likely to lie. So, instead of, “You broke my phone!”, start with, “My phone is broken…” and allow them to respond. You can provide praise for honesty and tell them that your family values include telling the truth.
- Elementary school children: Kids in this developmental stage often tell lies to avoid disappointing their parents or to keep from getting in trouble. “I don’t have any homework” might be easier to say than, “I don’t know how to do my math homework.”
- Tips: Try to understand what is underneath the lie and have a discussion about that first. Do they not know how to handle a situation? Help them problem solve first and then discuss alternatives to lying. For example, “Dad and I are always here to help you with your homework.” The next step is to have a discussion about the importance of honesty and let them know that telling the truth builds trust in a relationship.
- Teenagers: This is a trickier age because some of the same aspects apply (not wanting to get in trouble, not wanting to disappoint) and there can also be safety issues involved (drinking, sexual behavior, etc
- Tips:If it is not a safety issue, the response is more similar to younger children: try to understand the underlying reason first and then discuss the role of honesty in trust. You will most likely need to add in a consequence, but remember it should be proportionate to the behavior. For instance, losing phone privileges for lying about a bad grade, versus being grounded indefinitely.
- Safety tips: However, when it is an issue of safety, you always have to add in consequences. It can be helpful to make sure that your teens know what the consequences are ahead of time. For instance, “If you are caught drinking and driving, you lose all car privileges and we will seek professional help to understand the extent of your drinking problem.”
- When to seek professional help: If you notice your child continues to lie even after you have intervened and given consequences, it can be helpful to seek help from a therapist. Also, if you are concerned that your teen lacks empathy and lies regularly, a psychologist can evaluate for more serious issues.
As with all aspects of parenting, it is also important that you are modeling honesty if that is an expectation you have for your children. If you lie about their age to get a discount at the waterpark, then you are sending mixed messages. Every child will lie at some point, so these tips are meant to help you gauge what will be the most helpful response to develop the value of honesty.