Lying. What a difficult, negative thing to think about. The word liar drums up so many emotions, and none of them feel very good. But lies from children are more complicated than you might think.
While you’re not going to catch us putting a positive spin on lies, there are some interesting things to consider. Lying is actually a pretty typical part of childhood development. Think of it as exploration and experimentation. And in some cases, lying can be a sign of intelligence. Obviously, we never want to encourage or ignore lies from our children, but it’s not always helpful to punish kids because of them, either. So what can we do?
The first step is to discover some of the common reasons why our children lie. Only after that can we talk about positive solutions and strategies that will help our children open up and communicate with honesty. As a bonus, during the process we’ll grow as parents and create a more positive environment for our precious children. So, without further ado, here are some of the most common reasons kids lie, and how we can address it with love and positivity.
1. They don’t think they will be believed if they tell the truth.
Almost seems too obvious, right? Our kids often tell fantastic stories that couldn’t possibly be true! And often, we let them know that it couldn’t be true. But if we consistently doubt our kids or challenge their facts, they learn to not trust that we trust them. And when there are important truths to be told, they then hide stuff that should be discussed openly.
When they’re stories are of little consequence, we don’t have to believe all the details to believe our kids. I mean, is it important to push back when they tell us they ate 1,000 pancakes for lunch? Probably not. It’s enough to know they ate A LOT. So go with their story. When we give them the benefit of the doubt, we also build a strong foundation of trust. Then, our children feel secure and are more likely to trust us with little and BIG things.
2. Perhaps you have not created a safe space to share the truth.
Whether it’s because they did something wrong, or they have a difference of opinion, or they don’t want to be judged, kids sometimes fear our reactions, and lying may be a coping mechanism for a greater underlying problem that they are afraid to share. However, when we build our homes on trust, understanding, and empathy, our children are more likely to feel safe and secure.
This environment begins with calm, patient, measured reactions to… well, everything. Charged reactions from parents are a great way to get a kid to shut down and fear truth. But balanced atmospheres encourage our children to be honest. Keep investing in the quest to become gentle, understanding parents.
3. They don’t believe their authenticity makes them lovable.
Some lies are about personal presentation. It may be as innocent as pretending to like a song that’s popular, or acting like they love a sport that bores them to tears. All children want to be loved and know that they’re loved for who they are. But for kids still finding themselves and struggling with their own self-confidence, it may be hard for them to believe that the true versions of themselves are worthy of love.
Of course we love our children for who they are. Let’s work to find every opportunity we can to let them know that. Talk openly about different opinions and tastes. This way, our kids will know they are safe to share anything about themselves without feeling the need to lie or embellish.
4. They are disconnected from their truth, from who they are, due to trauma.
Sometimes, children lie because they aren’t yet ready to admit the truth to themselves. It may be too painful. In these cases, it might just be a matter of giving them time to come to terms with their own truths, and reaffirming their safety once they do. If the truth is a matter of experienced trauma, it may be best to seek help from a professional.
5. They are afraid of the consequences the truth will bring.
If kids fear punishment or know that the truth will cause someone else pain, they may not tell the truth. When kids do confess to a wrong, give them credit for owning it. Share an example from your childhood of when you had to own something that you did wrong. First let them know they are loved and accepted no matter what, then move on to any consequences for the misdeeds. In this safe environment, our children are more likely to know that they will always be loved. No matter what. And in that space, they can always be honest about anything.
6. They don’t have the communication tools for honest conversations.
I think we can all agree that communication is a learned skill. But our children are still baby communicators. So, let’s give our kids the tools that they need for honest conversations. For starters, we can listen actively, ask open-ended questions and use “I” statements. Play games in which the object is to identify truth from lies. We can practice these tools together and add more communication strategies as our children mature.
7. They have watched their parents lie and think it’s okay.
Like our children, many of us parents sometimes lie. Sometimes it’s to protect them. Sometimes it’s to save face. Whatever the reason, it happens. After all, we’re still little kids in big people’s bodies. If we as parents get caught in a lie, first, let’s apologize to our children and commit to telling the truth in the future. Everyone wins when we reparent our inner child.
8. They are feeling ashamed.
Sometimes, kids just want us to be proud, even if it means not being honest. Whether it’s a bad grade, or not being accepted by a group of kids at school, or not getting a part in the school play, it may feel easier to them to lie than to face the possibility of your disappointed. Tell them regularly how proud you are of them. ESPECIALLY when they don’t feel proud of themselves.
9. Lying is a coping mechanism for a greater underlying problem they are afraid to share.
Maybe they’re feeling depressed and their afraid to share. Or they’re struggling socially. Or they’re feeling confused about who they are as people. Lies, big or small, may be a way for them to cope with their other challenges. Perhaps the lies are a mask, or they give the kids a needed sense of control. Whatever they case, the lies may simply be an indicator of bigger challenge.
Parenting is both the best job in the world, and the hardest. If your truth is that you need a little help once in a while, you’re not alone. Consider a membership to the GoZen! Summit Library! More than 100 experts share advice on helping kids through anxiety, motivation, sleep challenges, anger, and more.