When a Child Lies

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Child Development

When a Child Lies

Our 6-year-old used to be a perfect angel, but lately she has been telling lies. She even lies about things that wouldn't get her into trouble. What has gone wrong and how can we stop her from lying?

It is common for parents to become worried when their child begins telling tales. And more often than not parents have no idea why their once honest child is now telling lies.

Most children tell lies from time to time, especially after entering grade school. Lying is a learned form of communication. Children are inherently honest so it is only after noticing someone else telling tales that they begin to understand that lying is another way to communicate.

Children often learn to lie from other children. It doesn't take long before they realize that lying is a way to avoid responsibility for unacceptable behavior. Children who develop a habit of lying have generally learned dishonesty from their peers and their parents.

When children begin to comprehend language they listen to everything their parents say as they attempt to understand the complexities of communication. If they hear their parents saying things that are not truthful they learn that lying is moral and acceptable.

Parents teach dishonesty when they lie about their age, eat grapes at the grocery store before purchasing them, or when they fudge the rules in order to get something they want. Even children as young as 3 notice that the parent isn't being truthful and they learn that honesty is either unimportant or that dishonesty is acceptable in certain circumstances. If a parent tells the cashier at the theater that their child is 3 instead of 4 in order to get a free admission the child learns that lying, breaking the rules and manipulation are acceptable.

Talking with your child about your own dishonest habits is unthinkable to most parents. However, if your child confronts you and accuses you of dishonesty the way you handle it will determine if the child learns a positive or a negative lesson. Acknowledging that the child is correct is important - anything else is yet another display of dishonesty and your child will lose respect for you.

When a child points out any of the parents less than desirable behavior it is important to say "You're right, that wasn't honest of me. I wish I had done things differently." Confession is cleansing and it allows the child to see that it is possible and preferable to stop lying. Change can become a family goal. The child will feel the support of the family as they make changes in their communication style and as they see the parent working on changes as well.

Next it is imperative that the parent actively look for positive communications from the child. Sometimes parents develop a habit of seeing only bad behavior in a particular child, making it difficult to see the good behaviors. But if a permanent change is to take place the child needs to experience praise and acknowledgment for appropriate behaviors. Just as they had to learn the inappropriate behavior, they now have to be shown what constitutes acceptable behavior.

It is important not only to address the child's lie but to address what they are lying about. If the lie is about feeding the dog their green beans, it is important to address the underlying reason for not wanting to eat the green beans. Perhaps they were cold and gross or maybe the child feared being punished if he didn't eat them. Help the child ease their initial distress then help them feel safe enough to tell the truth next time.

The parent might say "I don't blame you for not wanting to eat cold beans, I don't like cold beans either. How about the next time you feel that way you ask me to heat up your beans before you feed them to Fifi." The child's feelings were heard and understood, the parent provided a future solution and the child learns that telling the truth won't get him into trouble. Win-win.

Children come into this world like a blank slate waiting to be written on. They grow and develop by mirroring what they hear and see from those around them. If they are raised in daycare, the daycare workers will have an enormous effect on the child's development. If the child is surrounded by extended family the communication styles and behaviors they witness will be incorporated into their own way of being in the world. Most of all, be aware of your own behaviors and how you are influencing your child.
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