Savvy Parenting

Why kids lie, and what to do about it

Politicians, people in positions of high power, and kids do it– Lie. When small kids tell lies, their attempts at concealing the truth can be adorable and at times, really quite hilarious–particularly when the evidence is there across their face. 

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But why do kids lie, and  how do you stop children from turning their cute little fledgling lies into something that experienced criminal defense attorneys would need to get involved in unveiling the truth? 

Let’s take a look at why kids sometimes lie and how to nip that behaviour in the bud. 

They are scared of the consequences. 

It’s important to consider why, as adults, we sometimes lie- to our partners, our employees or traffic wardens. It’s mostly to stop ourselves from getting into trouble. Put that thought into the head of a three year old who has just been caught short eating the chocolate they have been told not to touch. They see a figure of authority coming towards them asking if they ate it, so they say ‘no’ to avoid being punished for doing something they have been told not to do.  

It is incredibly tough for children to be honest when they know they may face negative consequences such as physical punishment, being yelled at or humiliated. As adults, we can’t blame them having experienced the same at some point or another. 

We often lie when we don’t feel safe. It’s a survival instinct that temporarily eases the pressure of getting into trouble. However, as adults, we understand that if a lie goes into deeper questioning, they can be harder to maintain further along the line. Your boss will find out you overslept and not that you got caught in traffic all those times and the traffic warden will find out that you went to the store, not that you had to drop your child and daycare. In these cases, the lies themselves can cause severe consequences. 

For a child to stop lying, they need to be reassured that they are safe and that they are not going to get into trouble by telling the truth. This is achieved by creating an environment that is free from those humiliating punishments like spanking or yelling that can make a child scared. Be aware of how you respond to misbehaviour in general. Keep a calm voice when speaking to them (although yes, it can be hard to do) and think about the questions you may ask. For example ‘How are you getting on with your homework?’ rather than ‘Did you do your homework?’ Closed questions give children the opportunity to continue with their lies. 

Lastly, teach the art of apology. By apologising to our children when we are in the wrong, we are teaching  them that apologising for our misgivings is the right and respectful thing to do in situations where it is easier to lie. 

Children learn a lot about the world from the adults around them, and by being truthful and apologetic ourselves, we are teaching them the correct way to live  and how to deal with the consequences.