Children are bound to tell lies at some point in their lives. While this may seem worrying for parents at first, you can rest assured that it is all part of the learning process that they go through during the growing up years. On top of that, it also doubles up as a teaching opportunity to help your children differentiate between the real world and a make-believe one, and emphasise on the consequences of lying (yes, even if it is a harmless white lie) and why it is important that they tell the truth.
With this, we present to you some facts on why children lie, and what you can do to set them on the right path to honesty:
When and why do children lie?
According to a developmental model of lying proposed by Victor Talwar and Kang Lee, children typically start telling lies between the age of two and three where they blurt out statements that are untrue on purpose, without considering the consequences.
By four years old, children get better in telling lies as they have learnt how to match their facial expression to their tone of voice to make you believe that they are telling the truth. However, upon further questioning, they will eventually own up. Needless to say, they will perfect their lying ability further in primary school, where their lies get more complicated and frequent.
The reasons that lead children to tell lies vary, and may include the following:
- To conceal their mistakes and avoid getting into trouble
- To avoid hurting other people’s feelings
- To see how you respond to their lies
- To jazz up their stories and make it sound more exciting
- To get your attention and/or to get something they want
How to encourage children to tell the truth
Around the ages of 6 and 7, your children will begin to understand the difference between lies and the truth, which gives you the perfect opportunity to emphasise the importance of honesty in your family.
Here, we have outlined some age-appropriate tips to help you go through this process with your children:
1. Draw it out
Younger children are extremely imaginative and may have a hard time differentiating between what’s real and make-believe. When your child makes up a story, you can respond by saying, “I love how you came up with your story – let’s draw and turn it into a beautiful picture.” By doing this, you are inspiring him/her to be creative without giving the go-ahead to lie.
2. Praise them often
Telling “tall tales” may be your child’s way of getting attention and praise from you. To avoid this from turning into a lying habit, do make an effort to praise your child for his/her accomplishments – no matter how big or small they are. This can work wonders in boosting his/her confidence and self-esteem.
3. Read books on lying and honesty
Read books that emphasise on the importance of telling the truth – an all-time favourite is “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”, which gives a great example of what would happen when the same lie is told repeatedly.
4. Acknowledge their efforts to own up
Do praise your child when he/she owns up upon doing something wrong. You can respond by saying, “I’m glad you told me the truth – it makes me really happy when you are honest”. This assures your child that you will not get upset when he/she owns up to something that was done wrong.
5. Set the rules
Make sure to be clear on the rules and guidelines on what constitutes acceptable behavior in your family, and the consequences of breaking those rules.
6. Address the issue calmly
For older children who seem to be lying frequently, do talk to them calmly about the issue and help them see why lying does not constitute acceptable behavior. You can rationalise the issue by telling them how their lying makes you feel, how it affects the parent-child relationship and what it feels like when the people in their life no longer trust them.
Written by Justina Goh
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Read also: 20 Ways to Instill Good Manners in Your Child