On a particularly bad day many of us have answered, “Fine, thank you,” when asked, “How are you?” How many of us have told a lie because we didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings? How many of us have said to a phone solicitor “I am busy”? How many of us have insisted that our child say, “I’m sorry,” whether she felt remorse or not? How many of us have participated in fantasies such as the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy? Fibbing and honesty are both learned in the family.
Children under five naturally live in a world where fantasy and reality are blurred. During this developmental period, parents can delight in preschoolers’ imaginations with a puppet, Santa Claus, an imaginary friend or telling an impossible tale. However, school aged children and adolescents may lie for other reasons including poor adult modeling, habit of convenience or fear of punishment.
Children watch. Children listen. Children are more apt to copy a parent’s behavior than follow directions. Keep your promises. Share times when it was hard for you to tell the truth but you did anyway. Be honest with your own feelings, “I feel some doubt about believing you. I’m sensing you are not feeling safe to tell me the truth.” Focus on solutions rather than who is to blame. Demonstrate calmness and acceptance about mistakes. “A mistake is an opportunity to learn. What will you do next time?”
Habit of Convenience
Some children discover that lying can help avoid doing chores or going to school – the old “I’m too sick to go to school” syndrome. Lying may create privacy and distance or alternatively extra attention through an exaggerated tale. It is important to discover the underlying reason for the lie and then help the child succeed by using a truthful route. Give your child a voice to speak her feelings. “I hate emptying the dishwasher!” gives both parent and child the opportunity to negotiate a workable solution. Ask if you can enter a child’s room and note if your child requires more alone and down time. Then give it.
Fear of Punishment
In the classic parents’ book, Your Child’s Self-Esteem, Dorothy Corkille Briggs wrote, “Genuine lies are frequently born of fear of punishment: Harsh reprisals only teach skills in lying. Whenever lying is excessive, examine the climate around your child. Check your expectations. Look to your methods of discipline. Lies are symptomatic and causes need to be removed.” Children will lie to avoid emotional outbursts by parents. They may first lie to avoid punishments and then it becomes a “useful” habit — following the path of least resistance and pain. A pattern of increased parental distrust and punishment often probably escalates children’s lying. Discover the source of fear and follow some of the previously mentioned suggestions.
Demonstrate as much love and acceptance as you can. Never call your child a liar. She or he might live up to your declaration.
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Patricia Morgan MA CCC helps her readers, clients, and audiences lighten their load, brighten their outlook, and strengthen their resilience. To go from woe to WOW call 403.242.7796 or email a request.