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Tall Tales: What to Do When Your Child Lies

Mischievous Smiling GirlMy friend Shannon’s six-year-old daughter Kyla is constantly telling lies.

If Shannon asks her if she ate an extra cookie from the jar, Kyla will say her pet unicorn ate it. If Shannon asks her why she didn’t put her shoes on, Kyla will say it’s because there was a monster sitting in the hallway. If Shannon asks who broke the plate on the kitchen floor, Kyla will say her imaginary friend was making a snack.

These might seem like harmless enough stories, but Shannon worries about Kyla’s ability to be honest and face up to her actions. She has a point. It’s not a good idea to let a child get away with telling lies, no matter how creative they might be. But the truth is, kids lie. It’s a simple fact. Some more than others, and some with a little more imagination.

Kids usually lie for the same reason adults do: to avoid conflict. In Kyla’s case, her lying is helping her avoid getting in trouble, but it also could be partly the result of her creative play.

In Kyla’s imagination, maybe there really was a monster sitting in the hallway if that’s the game she was playing at the time. Children from 3 to 5 spend a lot of time in fantasy worlds, and there can be a blurry line between what’s real and what’s imaginary.

This is not to say that Kyla shouldn’t tell the truth about what happened to the plate, or the cookie, or why she didn’t put her shoes on. But coming down too hard on your kids when they tell lies isn’t the best tactic either, and can actually make them more prone to lying.

It’s important to note that when kids are under three years of age, it’s very difficult for them to understand the concept of lying and they truly won’t understand what they’re doing is wrong. The best way to deal with lies from very young children is not to put them in a position where they have to lie at all.

For example, if you walk into the room and your toddler is holding a crayon and there are marks on the wall, don’t say “Did you draw on the wall?” Your child will sense that you’re angry at whoever drew on the wall and will probably say no. It’s better to say something like, “Uh oh, we don’t draw on the walls in our house. You can help me clean up now.”

The same goes with the older children. There’s never much point in asking a young child why they did something or didn’t do something…it’s better to just reiterate what you want done: “You need to put your shoes on now, or we won’t be able to get to your playdate on time.”

If lying gets out of hand and you feel like you can’t believe a word that comes out of your child’s mouth, you can give older children consequences when you catch them in a lie. This could be in the form of losing screen time, playdates with friends, and treats.

But as much as possible, make sure the consequence fits the lie. If you know your child ate the extra cookie, for instance, the consequence would be no more treats for the day.

Nobody likes to be lied to, but try to remember that your little one is just trying out whatever works and trying to stay out of trouble. Be patient, explain why telling the truth is important, and try to avoid asking your child questions that might encourage lying.

If you’re looking for more simple, straightforward advice on dealing with common behavior problems in kids aged 2 – 12, make sure to check out Kids: The Manual. If you use the link below, you’ll get an instant discount:

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