Communication is the lynchpin of relationships, including the relationship between our children and ourselves; if your child has been caught lying, lying it can be difficult not to react harshly as a parent. Lying causes most parents to worry will my child always be a liar, was the truth so bad that he had to lie, and other negative feelings. As parents, we want open, honest communication with our children. When a lie goes uncaught, it can often turn into more lying. There are ways to stop a pattern of lying. Foremost why do children and teens lie to their parents and adults?
If a toddler age child veers away from the truth, it is not typically a serious problem. Toddlers can see often they can be redirected, to tell the truth. Most toddlers “lie” because they are telling a story and embellish for more attention.
It is important to understand why your child is lying to change this pattern of behavior. Older children and teens will lie for self-serving reasons such as avoiding punishment and having to engage in extra work. They have done something wrong, and to prevent an immediate consequence they will lie. They are encouraged to continue lying when they are not caught in their first lies. They think that “I got away with that and avoided getting into trouble,” so they will lie each time again hoping that they will get away with their lie, this leads to larger and more elaborate lies and eventually being caught. Adolescents also lie to protect their privacy and to save others from feeling bad. As teens grow, they seek out more independence and privacy; and will lie to protect it. They also have become old enough to understand that telling a lie can preserve another’s feelings. Socially we have all done this from time to time. Who has not told grandma that they love the fuzzy orange sweater she bought them for Christmas. This socially acceptable “lie” is to spare another’s feelings and is not what we are discussing here.
Lying becomes a more serious problem when a child is telling stories to seek greater amounts of attention, it has become a more repetitive behavior that is easily fallen into, or your child is covering up another more dangerous problem.
When you discover that your child is not telling the truth, take time out to deliberate and think through your responses. Your response will either set the child up for another lie or encourage them to be more open and honest with you. Next, find out what the truth was, and why your child avoided it. Stay calm an emotional reaction only makes your child fear the worst: a harsher punishment. Work to resolve that problem with your child, as you do this you can explain that the lie only makes it more difficult for you and your child to work together to solve a problem or deal with consequences of their actions. No matter how bad the truth is, by remaining open, calm, and listening to your child, it will set the stage for your child to be open and honest with you. Then you can both work together. If lying has become a constant problem, ask for help from your child and work to focus on the issues that are causing your child to lie and resolve these matters. Maybe your child needs alternative ways to communicate with you. An example is writing in a journal back and forth to each other. Praise them often for telling the truth, especially when it is difficult for them, be open and forgiving.
Remember that children and teens watch the adults in their lives and by being a consistent role model, we can demonstrate to them that lying is not an acceptable way to handle stressful situations. Make sure to talk about honesty and truthfulness at a variety of random times, not just when your child is in trouble for lying. If lying continues, escalates, or maybe masking a different problem seek out the advice of a knowledgeable therapist or pediatrician.