How to Stop Children from Lying

children lyingA study published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology found that lying children made better thinkers. Yes, you read that one right. Kids who lie well at a young age tend to have stronger memory skills.

Researchers say this is because it takes children a lot of mental efforts to keep their tall tales straight. The children who can lie the easiest have the best verbal memory.

Researchers say this is because it takes children a lot of mental efforts to keep their tall tales straight. The children who can lie the easiest have the best verbal memory.

This doesn’t mean that lying should be encouraged in young children. Instead, what parents can get out of this study is the realization that lying is a normal process that toddlers and pre-schoolers have to go through. Researchers say it’s the natural way that kids start to develop their thinking skills.

I’ve read several articles on why children lie at each stage of development. Surprisingly, most of these articles do seem to support the study that lying is closely related to their thinking skills, especially in very young children.

How to Stop Children from Lying

Lying at Each Stage

From birth to 3 years old, infants and toddlers are in a highly confusing world where they are dependent on adults for their very survival. Often what looks like “lies” are efforts either to protect themselves from punishment or to appease the grownups.

They take their cue from our tone of voice. “Did you break the jar?” said angrily is likely to get a “Not me” response. Tots don’t want to be in trouble with the adults they depend on. The angry tone in the adult’s question scares them. They just want to make things feel safe again.

Children from ages 3 to 7 are still figuring out the difference between fantasy and reality. Have you ever heard your child say things along these lines?

“I got so many presents for Christmas, I had to give half of them away.”
“My dinosaur’s name is Phoebe. She’s purple and lives in the basement.”

They create imaginary worlds in their play. Sometimes they’re not clear where their creations leave off and the real world begins. Younger children simply do not remember all the details of an occurrence, and may add some that they think makes sense. Others have difficulty discerning between their imaginary life and actual events, and lie in a wish to make an event happen, which psychologists call “magical thinking.”

From ages 7 to 10, kids gradually develop an understanding of what it means to lie. If they’ve been raised in a home and neighborhood and school where there are clear rules about the importance of telling the truth, they will do their best to comply. They want to be “big kids.” They want adult approval. They want to be on the side of truth and justice. Kids being kids, they will also monitor one another – and us. They’re the ones who will shout “liar liar, pants on fire” when they spot one.

They want to be “big kids.” They want adult approval. They want to be on the side of truth and justice. Kids being kids, they will also monitor one another – and us. They’re the ones who will shout “liar liar, pants on fire” when they spot one.

• Over 10 years old? They know perfectly well when they are stretching the truth or outright lying. Children may have a number of reasons for lying at this stage. Among them:

  • To avoid punishment — Children will lie to avoid trouble.
  • To impress others—In this case, children may tell tall tales to make themselves look good.
  • To boost self-esteem – Children may stretch the truth in order to get attention or praise from you or others.
  • To get something they want – Children may lie to get something they would like.
  • To protect others – Children are very loyal to friends and family members. They may lie to protect someone else.
  • Because they hear their parents lie – Children learn from their parents and other adults in their lives and thus will be more inclined to lie if they hear their parents and other adults telling lies.

Other factors that can cause a child to lie include being forbidden from an activity, having high expectations for achievement, or not being disciplined consistently.

why do children lie

The Best Response When Children Lie

Punishing children when they lie is never the best response. That’s what most parents do, but a McGil University study suggests it might be time for a new approach. This study found that punishment could actually make things worse – kids who were scolded for lying were more likely to lie again.

It’s actually a case of adults unintentionally setting up their kids to lie. Parents usually confront their kids accusingly with anger or threats. But if parents are harsh and punitive, they’ll be afraid to tell the truth.

If, on the other hand, parents make it safe for them, they will be honest. So be firm on honesty and gentle on your kids.

Also, try to make a strong moral appeal for honesty. Younger children are inclined to tell the truth to make an adult happy while older children are inclined to do so because of their own internalized definition of right and wrong.

And lastly, always be on the lookout for honest and trustworthy acts. Parents are often quick to scold and not as quick to praise. Reward honesty with loads of praise and hugs. It will build self-confidence and reinforce the positive behavior that you want. Plus, a child can never get too much love.

Here are some interesting picture books to teach children not to lie. Parents can give these to their little ones and see how they help.

children and lying

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