It keeps happening. Turn on the news, and there it is: another powerful person has lied. Like many social issues that have been in the news in the past year, parents are caught explaining. Why is IT acceptable for some to lie but not your child? If leaders lie, then why should we bother to tell the truth ourselves?
Along with bullying, lying has become another new normal in our world. Considering these facts, children can quite reasonably ask why it is wrong to lie. However, as a parent, you can turn it around and use this time as a teachable moment. Show your child how damaging lies can be.
The reasons kids lie
To begin, parents need to understand why children lie. The skill is instinctive and starts when they're very young. Researcher Kang Lee has spent decades studying children and lying, and has determined lying is a normal part of development. It's only when it becomes persistent that it becomes a problem.
For very young children, it's a fantasy or game to play. With a diaper dropping to her ankles, my flaxen haired two-year-old granddaughter will look up through her long eyelashes and deny she needs to be changed. The twinkle in her eye tells me she knows she isn't telling the truth.
For older children it can take the form of bragging about non-existent possessions or skills. Often this is to boost self-esteem in their peer group or to fit in with those friends. They know they're not telling the truth, but the social gains outweigh the negative of lying.
Trust is a cornerstone of any healthy relationship
This is an opportune time to talk and listen. Why was it important for your child to brag and lie? What they probably really need is validation that they are OK just the way they are. You can never love and support your child too much.
Finally, children will lie if they're fearful of the consequences of their mistakes. It's wise to remember that forcing a confession is the least successful way to deal with a lie. For example, don't ask if they did something, but instead ask how it happened to open a discussion.
It can be frustrating to catch your child lying, but staying calm in the midst of it is the most effective tactic. If you know what they've said isn't true, tell them so, calmly. Then look for a solution together.
Make a case for honesty
Why is honesty the best policy?
There's no better place to start than with the Aesop fable, "The Boy Who Cried Wolf." That simple story line is a morality tale for life. If you lie, and others know you lie, they'll always be wary of what you say. The result will be an unwillingness to trust you. Trust is a cornerstone of any healthy relationship.
Value and model honesty
Show your children how much you value honesty.
Children learn what they live, so if you remind them at opportune moments that honesty really is the best policy, then the message is clear. You can even ask their advice when a situation arises where telling the truth is perhaps challenging because it might hurt someone's feelings. See what they say. This type of discussion also helps develop problem solving skills.
More from Linda Simpson:
What about those little white lies?
Children need to be aware that it's impossible to go through life without ever lying. Remind them that constant lying is dangerous because it can get out of hand, and get you into trouble.
Use real life examples
We are up to nearly 1,500 lies from one world leader in just over a year in office. That doesn't make it right. Use these situations as real life lessons. We protect a value-based society, one child at a time.
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