My kids have never lied to me—never! After all, I am a family therapist who knows how to raise truthful children. If I believe that, then my kids are not only telling tall tales, but also getting away with it. In fact, if your child has not fibbed, that may be more concerning than the lie itself. Telling falsities is an important part of one’s emotional growth, and it is not a bad thing, depending on the age of the child.
Fibbing for the toddler set is a sign of a fast-developing brain, an emerging quick wit, and a benchmark of future life success. In other words, children who tell ‘good’ lies typically are smart kids because lying takes a lot of brain power. In fact, creating untruths is a complex process requiring a young mind to not only merge multiple ideas but also manipulate that information to one’s own advantage. Parents should not be alarmed; rather, they should consider creative story-telling an opportunity to have a teachable moment.
Preschoolers have difficulty distinguishing fantasy from reality. In most situations, it probably makes sense to let your child’s imagination run wild, but a ‘cover-up’ story to avoid trouble should be discussed. Respect your youngster’s creative abilities, but comment that lying is unacceptable. Don’t express anger; rather, encourage truth.
As children enter the elementary years, lying does not stop; it just changes. Kids begin to develop a moral compass and understand the concept of polite social lying. Most appreciate that it is better to tell grandma that they love the ugly holiday sweater than hurt her feelings. Children, however, still occasionally bend the truth mostly to avoid punishment or doing something unpleasant like emptying the trash. Now, however, it is time to have an age-appropriate consequence because your intelligent offspring knows they have done something wrong.
Teenagers typically lie to avoid consequences, protect their friends, or do something their parents forbid. In these situations, it is best to have a predetermined consequence that is short, immediate and painful, which will help to avoid an overblown parent/child argument. But also make sure to ask your teen what she was thinking as that question can provide needed insight into her adolescent mind.
No matter the age of your child, maintain your cool when dealing with mistruths, tall tales and blatant falsities. Parents should attempt to calmly discuss rather than interrogate. It also is important to appreciate your child’s honesty when they do finally admit to the lie. Avoid calling your child a liar, as this just leads to hurt feelings and more arguing. It is acceptable to express disappointment, but avoid criticizing. Your ultimate parental goal is to intrinsically motivate your child to make good decisions.
And truth be told, it is probably not your child’s fault he occasionally tells untruths. Kids learn from their environment, picking up both the best and worst traits of the adults around them. Most adults tell the occasional ‘white’ lie or omit the truth. Try to avoid this natural tendency when you are around your kids. While you may want to save money at the movies or while dining in a restaurant, misrepresenting your child’s age teaches that lying is acceptable.
If you notice your child habitually or compulsively lying, it may be time to seek professional assistance. Telling consistent untruths often is a defense mechanism young people use to avoid difficult problems. An infrequent isolated incident, however, is not a cause for parental alarm. In fact, it may be a sign that you gave birth to a highly creative, intelligent child; at least, that is what I tell myself on that rare occasion I catch my child stretching the truth.