Children often engage in making up stories, twist truths, and makeup tales or hide the obvious. They seem to learn this from thin air. No one has to instruct them how it’s done or provide any encouragement to do it more often. Sometimes, we find their story making abilities cute and as they begin to grow older, the very same habit irks us.
If lying is limited to simple story-making, to make any truth eventful, you can let it go, however, compulsive lying must be looked into. Compulsive lying means a child lies often or for no apparent reason at all. When the child is constantly lying, parents tend to become suspicious of their child, which leads to a loss of faith and trust.
In addition to lying, children often indulge in stealing things from parents, friends, or places like shops and restaurants. The first time your child walks home with someone else’s toy, you think it’s borrowed or that it’s just a mistake, but when the behavior repeats itself frequently, how would you react? You find your child’s pencil box, full of pencils that belong to other children in the class; you are devastated and give your child physical punishment. Did you do the right thing?
When the whole process of frequent lying and stealing starts, it tends to lead to a relationship of suspicion between the parent and the child. This can spoil the relationship that you share with your child. Yet it seems so difficult to stop this behavior. So why does lying or stealing begin? Do parents act as a catalyst to the child lying or stealing? How can this behavior stop?
Lying-The Reasons and the Solutions
As you start to worry about why your child keeps lying to you, you must understand that every action is a consequence of another. Some of the reasons why a child may lie are listed below.
Lying out of Fear
When a child is scared, he is inclined to lie. When a child fears punishment from a mother at home, chances are that he would refrain from telling the truth and tell a lie instead. Similar worries of house arrest, or withdrawal of pocket money, or having to face school authorities are a few more triggers that can act up to making a child lie. Lying acts as a temporary rescue from the consequences of whatever the child fears or is scared of. So is there any way to stop a child from lying especially if he does so out of fear? Well, mostly children who lie out of fear normally do understand the fact that they have done something wrong. This can act as the basis on which the parents or school authorities can try and talk to the child. Do not patronize your child in such a situation. Screaming and letting the child know that he was told about the consequences of an act after it’s done, in a derogatory way will not help tackle the issue. This will merely shut the doors of communication between you and your child. When dealing with lies try and go beyond the lie and think of the situation that led your child to take shelter in that lie. Also, parents, who are constantly angry/ have temper problems/ shout or are very restrictive in nature generally instill fear in their children leading them to tell lies for fear of being shouted at or for fear of being at the receiving end of their parents’ temper. They feel that if they lie their way out of the situation, everything will be forgotten and life will move on as usual. But this is not healthy because it can become a child’s way of dealing with a situation like this even in adulthood. Parents need to re-look at their behavior if they find that their child is lying out of fear. Opt for a more open parenting style, which has room for listening, understanding, and allowing mistakes especially as your child gets older. He should know for a fact that there will be no consequences if he tells the truth. If the child sees that a mistake will be forgiven and that he can talk openly to his parents about the reasons for his actions, chances are he will stop lying (That’s not to say that you should forgive all the mistakes that a child makes, because that may encourage the child to be careless and continue making the same mistakes again and again). Tell them a mistake is an opportunity to learn. And that they must be careful about it next time.
All kids tell tales. But when they do this very often and are not corrected for it, it turns into a habit because of the constant practice. Such children will lie and refuse to accept it even when confronted. If your child is into habitual lying then his behavior will get stronger by hostile confrontations. The best way to deal with habitual lying is to give your child an option to take back the lie. Use honesty to deal with this problem. Talk to them and say that “What you just said doesn’t sound like the truth. Everyone tells a lie some time in their life, but if you do this often then no one will ever believe you”. When a parent constantly tries to pressurize the child with good behavior, a child may lie out of an act of rebellion. Some parents find themselves almost nagging their children when it comes to going out with them or even simply sharing the reason for their foul mood. When pushed to the corner, a child might resort to lying so that he or she doesn’t have to. Always remember to respect your child and his or her thoughts. Respect his or her privacy and space. By doing so you are giving them limited reasons to revolt by lying. And they will not need to lie to you to protect their privacy.
Learning by Observation
Let’s be honest, all of us lie. Research proves that an adult lies in every one of his five social interactions. Also in a child’s world –his friends, teachers, and parents all make up stories. As a parent or caregiver, you shield your child from the world till you think he or she is ready for it. In the process, you end up telling your child many half-truths. Teachers also prefer to tell children age-appropriate truths.
Is it possible to stop our child from hearing any lies? If you tried to stop your child from interacting with other children who lie, then probably your child will not be left with any friends at all. So what do you do?
Thankfully, what you can do is limit the lying at home. When you tell your child that he or she will be taken for a trip to the zoo for good behavior all week, remember to keep the promise. Else it turns out to be a lie in your child’s eyes. He will turn back and tell you “You told me a lie. You said you would take me to the Zoo and you did not”. As adults, you could have your reasons, but as a child, the behavior translates into a lie. Remember there is no concept of moderate lying. Eliminate the exposure your child has to lies at home as much as possible since you cannot control the outside world.
All children are inquisitive and ask a lot of questions. Sometimes it may not be possible to answer all the questions fully and they are best answered in an age-appropriate manner. That is fine because as the child grows up he will understand the reason for you having answered in the manner that you did. But many times small children ask so many questions that you feel nagged. And give superfluous answers just to get them off your back. This is an easy way out but may not be appropriate. Because what is likely to happen is that when the child asks you the same question again (when you are in a good mood or not feeling nagged) you will give a different answer. Children start wondering about the reason for different answers. It’s best to tell the child that he can ask only 5 questions-and make sure you answer them well. Tell them the next 5 questions will have to wait for the evening or for tomorrow.
Thinking Ahead-Extrapolative Lying
Some children try and think through situations before they tell a lie. They extrapolate the sequence of things from past experiences. For example, if your child knows you will not say yes to a party, he or she will come to you and lie about going on a study date. The only way to break this habit is to have an open line of communication with your child. So that they feel free to ask and tell you things. With the right value system being instilled in children they will also come to know how they are required to behave and what is acceptable in their family. When these things work in tandem, children stop lying.
Lack of Confidence and Self Esteem
Often children, who are not sure of themselves or suffer from low self-esteem, will indulge in lying to their peer groups and friends. This often happens to gain confidence and approval from their peers to be able to fit into a group. They want to feel good about themselves and find a safe haven in lying about something to get that positive feeling. In a situation like that, you must try and build the confidence that your child may be lacking. Don’t try and prove them wrong all the time, instead of praising them on their good points, to motivate them. The children need to know that they don’t need to lie to make themselves appear good. Because they are already good enough as they are.
Take special care of adolescent lying
Adolescence may be the most difficult developmental period for dealing with lying. During this age, children are constantly trying to spend more time away from home, because they develop new interests and want to explore the outside world with their friends. Allow them certain freedom and privacy (remember the time when you were a teenager and how you needed your space and privacy). However, remember that this age is also associated with substance abuse and risky behavior. Keeping open lines of communication is most important at this age because children still do not know the right and wrong of many things and may want to consult a responsible adult. Could there be a medical problem?
Sometimes, the reason why children lie could have its roots in more serious problems. Some children, who start lying at an early age, could be suffering from social behavior disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or conduct disorder. Lying in cases with disorders is often accompanied by other behavior problems like aggression, skipping school, constantly losing things, bad behavior in groups, tantrums, stealing, and cheating. Problems such as being impulsive, not being able to focus or be attentive, and not being comfortable with social setups are all linked with lying due to disorders. Medical experts can help children and parents by introducing parenting styles that work. Also having a deeper knowledge of the problem at hand will equip the parents to deal with the situation better. When the child receives age-appropriate psychotherapy, the chances of the situation improving are higher. Hence, if your child shows signs of the symptoms stated above, you must seek help.
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