Many parents worry when their child lies. It can be very concerning because we all want to raise honest children. However, lying is actually a very common behavior in children and actually a part of typical development. The ability to omit the truth or change details of a story are actually signs of increasing mental maturity.
Preschool age children will tell tall tales about things that may sound like they could have actually happened and stories that are completely outlandish. This is also the time of imaginary friends and the belief in Santa and the tooth fairy. Children at this age often have very rich imaginations and have not yet developed a strong sense of the difference between fantasy and reality.
What To Do: The best thing to do is to just enjoy your preschooler’s stories and remember them for when he or she grows up. These stories will not last forever. Telling very imaginative tales can even be a sign of high intelligence. Sometimes these fantasies will reflect what is happening in real life as a child processes new information. For example, an imaginary friend might experience a tragedy as a child is experiencing a loss or a scary time. This is all part of healthy development.
Lying to Get Out of Trouble or Doing Something
“My daughter told me that she didn’t have any homework because she had gotten all her work done at school. But then I found crumpled up homework sheets at the bottom of her bag. She still insisted that she didn’t have homework.” This is a very common type of behavior for children. Children will lie about homework, eating the last cookie, and walking the dog.
One of the most frustrating parts of these lies is that children will often stand by these untruths, even when all the facts show what really happened. Parents often are very upset that their child insisted a lie was true, even when caught “red-handed.”
What To Do:
- Avoid trying to get your child to admit the truth. Often, the more you try to get your child to tell the truth, the more he or she will stand by the lie.
- Instead, of questioning your child, simply have them fix the situation. For example, if you find that homework in the bottom of the backpack, instead of asking your son why he lied about not having homework, simply tell him it looks like there is still work to do.
Not Talking about His or Her Day
Have you ever asked your child what happened during the day and he or she said, “Nothing,” or “I don’t remember,” and you later found out that something actually did happen?
What To Do:
- Don’t worry! As children get older, they often tend to share less with their parents. This is part of children becoming more mature. Children will often start sharing more information with their friends as their social lives become more complex.
- Avoid asking as many non-essential questions. Spend time with your child on a regular basis during which you don’t ask questions. Spend this time reflecting back what your child shares and praising your child. Avoid giving advice at this time unless your child directly asks. Really focusing on what your child has to say and holding off on questions and advice will let your child know that he or she is being heard. A child who feels heard will continue to talk.
Model Telling the Truth
Avoid telling any little, white lies or fibs yourself. Avoid lying about a child’s age to get them a lower price meal.
Answer your child’s questions directly in age appropriate responses. Try not to give made-up answers to avoid dealing with difficult questions.
Avoid telling your child that you will do something that you are not able to do. This includes consequences that you don’t feel right about or cannot carry out. This also includes telling your child that you will do something that you might not be able to do. Keeping expectations realistic for yourself and your child will help prevent this situation.
The more your child sees you being honest both with him or her and the world, the more you are teaching that you value honesty. Honesty is a value that is taught over time and you may not see results quickly. You are a guide to your child. Your child is watching you to learn how a grown up should behave. The results of your hard work will slowly appear as your child matures.
If you feel that your child is telling lies outside of what you expect or in a way that concerns you, the help of a professional therapist may be needed.
Author: Jennifer Luria
Jennifer Luria is a highly skilled child and adolescent psychotherapist. Ms. Luria holds a Masters in Social Work from the University of Iowa. She was employed by the Center for Disabilities and Development at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics for 8 years, and recently has joined the staff at Hope Springs. Ms. Luria has a very warm and compassionate style, which she balances with the ability to effectively set goals and bring about results with her patients. She is also certified in Parent Child Interaction Therapy, as well as Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (Certified Therapist). She is currently accepting new patients.