My nine-year-old son has just come out of the “lie about everything, no matter how ridiculous or transparent it may be” phase. His older sister went through it and his younger brother is bound to as well. It seems to be a pretty common phase, as it’s much talked-about topic on the Circle of Moms communities.
Like my son, member Brandie’s daughter “would lie about completely insignificant things," including "whether or not she had brushed her teeth.” Brandie and I are not alone. In every Circle of Moms conversation on this topic, mom after mom chime in to say that kids lie about relatively unimportant things, leaving all of us wondering why kids do this. Here are some insights on the reasons our kids lie, and ideas on how to deal with it.
3 Reasons Kids Lie
1. Telling Tall Tales
Younger children, like Mindy R.’s 6-year-old, are often telling “white lies”. They’re not intending to deceive anybody; they’re trying out their new story-telling skills. As Circle of Moms members Margaret puts it, they are trying to “make themselves more important by telling tall stories or fibbing to bring focus and attention.”
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry assures parents that when young children tell tall tales, it’s not a serious problem. Rhonda, also a Circle of Moms member, agrees. She says her daughter’s lying is “fantasy type stuff” and easy to see through.
2. Lying For Social Acceptance
The lies that tweens tell are more self-serving than those of younger children. One of the reasons kids lie, says mom Stefanie S., is because they want attention. Tweens not only crave attention, but acceptance, too.
The pressure to fit in with their peers can make kids feel like they need to lie to be accepted or to feel better about being rejected. This fits in with what many of moms say their children lie about: things that happened in school; about themselves to people at school, or about the interactions they have with their peers.
3. Lying to Avoid Punishment
Stefanie S. may have gotten it right when she said “Most kids lie because they are scared of what their parents will do to them if they find out what they've done.” But not all moms agree. Dot D. thinks that kids often lie to protect someone else who did something wrong.
Either way, this type of lie, the “I didn’t do it/I don’t know anything about it” lie, is uttered in order to avoid the consequences of the truth.
Dealing With the Lies
Punishment for lying is a topic of great debate among Circle of Moms members. One mom, Diane, urges parents to keep perspective, saying lying isn’t completely out of the norm. “Don't get caught up in the fact that she's lied, look for the underlying reasons,” she reminds mothers.
Other moms, like Jaclyn, take a harder line. In her house, a child who lies is in double trouble. “You get the consequence for whatever you did wrong, and a separate consequence for lying about it,” she says.
Lissa, like many Circle of Moms members, subscribes to the Boy Who Cried Wolf approach. She talks to her children about the effects lying has on both the liar and on other people, stressing that once a child has lied, it makes it incredibly hard for people to believe him when he’s telling the truth.
There are consequences for the original offense, ranging from simple (having him brush his teeth because he lied about doing it before) to complicated (finding a way for him to repair something he’s broken).
We talk about what mom Lissa refers to as “that knot in your stomach you get when you lie” or guilt. We also talk about how it feels to be the parent of a kid who lies.
My son (and his sister before him) has learned that when he lies it makes me feel as though he doesn’t trust me to deal with the truth fairly and how that doesn’t give me a fair chance. So far it’s working. Let’s hope it works with the next one, too.
How do you deal with your child when he or she lies?
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