Monday, April 24, 2023

Why Do Kids Lie? 🤥

No one likes being lied to, and it can be even harder to process when it’s coming from your kiddo. That being said, it’s important to differentiate what lying means to adults (and why we do it) and what it means for kids. 

We know that many times kids lie to avoid getting into trouble, to get out of things, or to get what they want. However, there are also other reasons that we sometimes forget to take into account. Kids can lie to test the waters and see what happens. Kids with low self-esteem can lie to make themselves feel cooler, and kids with anxiety or depression may lie to stop others from worrying about them. Kids with ADHD or other difficulties may lie because they speak before thinking. 

Showing kids the value of telling the truth and teaching them that lying is not okay is an important responsibility for parents and, like all other things, it’s good to start early and be consistent. However, it’s worthy to note that your child’s ability to lie is a very important cognitive and emotional milestone that all children must meet. The idea of “Theory of the Mind” -  when a child begins to understand that each person can have their own perception of reality and can begin to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, which is extremely important in life - is fundamental to understanding lying. Without reaching this developmental mark - without developing Theory of Mind - children would not be capable of creating and telling lies because they wouldn’t be aware of how their mental state is different from others’. The emergence of lying also shows that a child is beginning to understand social norms, is bettering their planning skills, and is strengthening executive function. We tend to see the emergence of lying in preschool aged children but it continues to develop over the years. While understanding the role lying plays in our children’s growth is helpful to better see the ‘big picture’, as parents we must also employ the correct strategies to address the behavior. 

So, what should we do when kids lie?

It’s important to base your actions on the “size” of the lie. The most important factor in determining how to respond to this behavior is to decide how big of a deal the lie was and understand its purpose (maybe it was emotionally self protective?). Your reactions should be gauged accordingly. 

Once you have “caught them” in their lie, acknowledge it with empathy and help them to take responsibility. Instead of getting angry, show them that you understand why they may have felt the need to lie and that there is a way to make it right (apologizing, fixing something, doing makeup work, realizing the meaning of their lie, etc.). 

Your child is learning a lot and going through many developmental changes, so take the time to focus on morals and values and feeling safe telling the truth. If you can show your child that truth is valued in your family and it’s safe for them to be honest (meaning you won’t immediately get mad and punish them) and help them to internalize the concept, they will be less likely to lie. 

Just like with most other lessons we want to teach our children, the most powerful tool we have is the ability to model behavior. Kids, especially highly sensitive ones, are very insightful and pick up on more than we know. It’s important that your kiddo not see you lying (even if it’s about something non-consequential). Whether it be to someone else or to them, make sure you are providing a good example for your kids, even when telling the truth is harder and more complicated or takes longer.

What’s the best piece of advice to correct the behavior of lying and prevent it from reoccurring? Telling (and showing) your kid, whenever possible, that they will get in less trouble and feel a lot better when telling the truth.