“Mommy, Josh hit me!” “No, I didn’t. I was over there.” Who should you believe? More importantly, what should parents do when kids lie? It’s not easy discovering your child is not telling you or others the truth about some things. When kids lie, whether it gets better or worse can depend on many factors. It us up to you, as the parent, to determine the reasoning behind the lies and to work with your child at finding a resolution before it becomes a long lasting habit.
Get to the bottom of the lies. Before taking any action, you need to know why your child is lying to begin with. Is there a traumatic situation going on? Has someone made your child afraid to tell you the truth? Is he simply afraid of getting in trouble? Sometimes when kids lie, it’s because someone has threatened them against telling the truth. This is a tactic used by predators and bullies. But often, it’s probably because they are afraid of getting into trouble. Other times, the lying has simply become a habit.
Tread lightly. If you are too harsh with punishments for lies, it might actually encourage more lying. Being too visibly upset also hinders the process of your child opening up with the truth. If you are understanding and calm, your child will feel more comfortable opening up to you after a lie and also in the future. Being too accusatory or angry with your child will often produce the exact opposite of what you are trying to accomplish.
Be what you expect from your child. Sometimes it can be easy to tell small lies to sugar-coat things for the kids. These are commonly known as “white lies”. But doing so may actually be setting an example for them that says it’s acceptable to tell lies if it benefits the situation. Avoid telling lies to your kids to show them the truth is always better, even when it hurts. If they see you being honest and also see the results of that honesty, it gives them more incentive to do so themselves. On the other hand, if you are always telling them lies or covering up things in their presence, they will wonder why they can’t do the same.
Show your child the effects of lying. You can’t just tell a child that honesty is the right thing and expect them to listen. Some might. But real-life examples are extremely important. If a child never sees any ill-effect caused by lies, because lying seems so easy, they may not truly understand the ramifications of it. If your child has lied about something and the truth has been uncovered, discuss the damages that occurred because of the lying. Discuss what could have happened had the truth been told to begin with. When consequences from the lies come to fruition, as they always do, be sure to point that out to your child. Sometimes talking is not enough and experiencing or seeing has more value.
Punish accordingly. If you punish your child too harshly for lying, it can create a domino effect, leading your child to continue lies to avoid punishment. Instead, follow the above examples and let your child face full-on the consequences that come with the lies he has told. Make sure that your child knows those things are a direct result of the lie. Also, explain and discuss the ‘boy who cried wolf’ scenario. When people lie too often, they are not believed when there may be a real crisis. Children need to know this will be a problem when they are in need of help. If people cannot trust them, when they need help, there may be no one to go to.