Kids lie. Unfortunately, no one has to teach a child how to lie; it’s one of those things that comes very naturally, and even though it’s human to bend the truth, it’s not a good habit for children to get into. Honesty is a hugely valued character trait in life–in families, in workplaces–and basically you have to re-program your child to NOT lie.
Kids lie for a number of reasons:
- To get something they want
- To get out of something they don’t want to do
- To avoid getting into trouble
- To experiment with the value of lying (what would happen if I lied in this situation?”
- To feel better about themselves or make themselves look good
- To puff up their own self-esteem
- To take the focus off of themselves
- Because they are just plain forgetful
- To get attention
- To avoid hurting someone’s feelings
- Some kids lie out of impulse, talking before they even think.
The bottom line is this: kids often lie because they don’t know of any other way to address a problem. Lying is a default mechanism for survival.
Before I go any further, let me distinguish between creativity, imagination and outright lying. Younger children do lots of make-believe in their playing. This is not lying, but an opportunity for them to use their imaginations.
However, because lying is a self-protective behavior, it will come naturally to your child and they will learn, if they’ve not already done so, to bend the truth for a reason that benefits them.
(By the way, crossing your fingers behind your back does not change the fact that a lie is a lie.)
If you are serious about raising kids who do not lie, if honesty is a virtue that you value in your home, here are some ways you can encourage it:
Emphasize the importance of honesty in your home and talk about what a lie is and why it hurts people. Better yet, make it a core value of your family. Ask your kids how they feel when they are lied to and talk about lying affects others.
Affirm your child’s honesty, especially when they admit to doing something wrong. Thank you for being honest. Let’s figure out how to resolve this issue.
Live a life of honesty yourself. This is perhaps the biggest influencer. Your kids will do what they see you doing. If you are lying to your boss, or other family members, or even to the government, they will assume that lying a convenience tool and they will start using it themselves.
Look for the reason behind the lie. For instance, if your child lies in an attempt to get Mom or Dad’s attention, start giving them the attention they need, so they don’t need to lie to get it. When your child is caught in a lie, before you blow up and punish them for the lie, talk to them and try to understand why they lied. Once you understand that, you can proceed with appropriate consequences for lying AND a resolution for the reason for the lie.
Let your child know that you know they are lying, without calling them a liar. If your child believes he’s a liar, he might keep on lying.
Place a high value on trust. Your child needs to understand that when they lie to you, they’ve abused your trust. This is especially true with older kids and teens. If they’ve broken trust, it may take a while to learn it back. In the meantime, there most likely will have to be consequences.
How to Not Lie and Not Hurt People
Many parents teach their kids to lie to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. “Tell Gramma you love her dessert even if you don’t because it could make her feel bad.” There’s a good reason for that: you don’t want to hurt Gramma’s feelings, but it’s also teaching kids how to lie.
Most people will lie or bend the truth so that they don’t hurt someone’s feelings. But being tactful and answering the question in a different way than what they asked is an honest strategy. This often takes maturity that kids don’t have.
Instead of kids outright lying, teach them to look for something positive they CAN say. “Thanks Gramma, for working so hard to prepare this dessert!”
If it’s a direct question, “Do you like this dessert?” it may take a bit more creativity. If blunt honesty will truly hurt Gramma, then deflect and re-direct: “You worked very hard on it! What’s the recipe?”
This deflecting and redirecting skill is one that kids have to learn; show them how it’s done.
I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you. (Friedrich Nietzsche)
Integrity and honesty are virtues that will take your child further in life. Spouses need honesty, employers reward honesty, friends value honesty. There’s no down side for your child learning to be honest.
If you are struggling to teach your child honesty, I’m a family and parenting life coach. You can schedule a free intro call here.