Children lie! It is an undisputed aspect of childhood and considered a natural part of growing up. Around the age of 2, children begin to fabricate stories that may be based on truths or part of a vivid and healthy imagination. Normally, children are praised and heralded for these creative stories and they learn very quickly that this story-telling invokes a positive reaction from parents and care givers. What young children and pre-schoolers do not understand is that lying in its raw form is wrong. The mixed messages they receive early in life transcend the grade school years and it can take a while for a child to understand the difference between telling the truth and making up a story. Many parents wonder whether disciplining a child for lying is in order and if so what is the best way to go about it.
The first thing parents must consider is the age of the child in question. A 3 or 4 year old definitely does not always understand the implications for lying and are just beginning to realize that often the truth has a negative effect. It is actually quite intelligent that they are able to figure out that by telling their parent a lie they will get what they want. For instance they may blame their friend for breaking a toy in order to avoid trouble or lie and say they dropped their cookie in effort to get another one. These types of lies should be addressed with patience and compassion. Lying is usually done in part because some sort of fear exists. A child may be fearful of getting in trouble, fearful of not getting a need satisfied, fearful of being ridiculed or fearful that a friend or sibling will get in trouble if they tell the truth. Just like every other aspect of behavioral expectations it can take time for the ‘lying thing’ to click with a child. In order to nip it in the bud it should never be ignored and as soon as a child can realize the difference between fact and fiction they should be encouraged to submit the facts!
Disciplining a child for lying should always remain consistent
Most of the time parents know straight away when a child is telling a lie or not. Since this is true, it is not very nice to entrap a child by setting them up to lie. In addition to that, the truth no matter how ugly- should be accepted with an air of appreciation and praise for having the courage to speak it. Lessening the punishment because they did tell the truth is a great way to reinforce the importance of being honest. If they choose to lie instead it should be pointed out in plain words that you are disappointed with their choice to not tell the truth. It should be addressed in a manner that doesn’t shame or humiliate the child even further or label them as a liar. Most kids have an inborn level of consciousness and may feel bad about the lie in the first place.
Part of disciplining a child for a lie should include explaining the consequences of telling lies. This will differ by age level. If lying becomes a consistent behavior, especially for a young child some thought might be given to why the child is afraid to tell the truth. Often, parents get so caught up in their child’s negative behavior that they become easily convinced that the child is always lying. If a child promises they are telling the truth and understands the consequences – than as a parent we must trust. Trust is always the consequence of the truth and even young children can begin to understand this concept.
Lying is also a form of self defense. What is your child defending himself against? How has your reactions in the past molded his ability or lack there of to actually tell the truth. When you are disappointed in your child are you still always able to show love or do you react from a place of anger? When a child sees that they have angered mom or dad they become fearful. It can be upsetting when a child lies; but by realizing that it is a part of growing up and that it can be a key to many doors of communication the discipline should never involve anger or fear!
Every child has some sort of currency in their life. Even toddlers and pre-schoolers have some activity or toy that is most dear to them. Probably a good way to go about disciplining a child for lying is take that one thing away temporarily. Once that it is done, the punishment or recourse should not be brought up over and over again. Children of all ages need to understand that they are forgiven and that once they serve their time, things will go on as usual. Reacting, rehashing, and continuously bringing up the wrong doing will only shame the child so deeply that they totally misunderstand the lesson they are being taught.
Another thing to consider about lying is this. When a child blatantly tells a lie in order to avoid a consequence or in order to avoid trouble they are admitting in a passive aggressive way that they realize what they did was below familial expectations. In teenagers especially it is important to realize that a lie is a cover up for their guilt. If they feel guilty then at least as a parent you can feel satisfied in knowing that they have certain instilled morals and standards of behavior.
It is absolutely necessary to implement some sort of discipline for lying. The discipline of choice should always suit the situation. It is equally important that all children realize that they are being punished more harshly for the lie itself, rather than the act that they lied about. When they do tell the truth (even if not initially) it should be recognized and merited appropriately. Telling the truth should feel good to them. They should be praised for courage and responsibility. Unfortunately, children grow up seeing their parents tell little white lies all the time. As they over hear you tell a neighbor you can’t make the BBQ because you have a funeral to attend and they know that’s not true; they are being taught that sometimes lying is okay! By providing a stellar example of truthfulness, instilling accurate measures of moral standards and by disciplining a child for lying without shame or humiliation children will learn that the truth is always best! Disciplining a child for lying in the proper way can prevent years and years of problems for you and your child.