Did My Young Child Tell Me a Lie?

Give consequences that are appropriate, and let the punishment fit the crime. Expect that your child will try to "bend the truth," but remember to give praise for behavior that is forthright.
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When I was raising my children, the thought of them telling me a lie was one of my greatest fears. I was determined to teach them values early on, so that they would realize the virtue of telling the truth. I knew the time would come eventually, and I tried to prepare for what I would do. I told them that I might not approve of everything they did, but if they told me the truth, we would always talk about it and work it out. I also told them that if I discovered that they told me something that was not true, that there would be serious consequences for their behavior. It was important to me that I did not label them as liars, but that instead I labeled the action that they took as a lie.

The first lie came at age 3 1/2. My son had left a trail of cookie crumbs on the carpet leading to his room. I asked him if he knew where the cookie crumbs came from, and he quickly answered "No!" I then asked him if he had taken some cookies from the kitchen to eat in his room. Again, the answer was 'No!" I told him that if he remembered that he had taken them I would talk to him about it, but that if I found out that he had not told me the truth, he would have a big consequence. He went into his room and sat down for about five minutes, and then he came out and said "Mommy, I want to tell you something." He then proceeded to tell me that he saw the cookies on the counter and "his tummy really wanted them." I hugged him and told him that he made a good choice in telling me the truth, and I told him that next time I expected him to ask permission. That was pretty much the way it went for the 15 years that followed. Honesty was something that I valued, and although there were some challenges, my children knew that telling lies only culminated in important losses (TV time, allowances etc.).

I often am asked by parents what to do when their children tell them lies. "Does that make them grow up to be liars?" "Should I tell them that being a liar is a bad thing?""Why do they lie?" This is what I suggest.

First, try not to put labels of any kind on your child. If you label your child as a liar, he or she will take that to mean that that is who they are. You can discuss how important it is to be seen as a person who tells the truth, because people will trust you more if you do. The action of telling a lie can cause you to get into more trouble than what it is that you are trying to hide.

Children lie because they are afraid of making their parents angry. They lie because they sometimes see their parents telling a lie. "Tell them you are under 12 so we can pay less at the movies." They lie to be boastful if their self-esteem is low. "I'm the best basketball player in the league." They lie because they don't know how to get what they want. "I'll give you all my candy if you won't tell on me." They lie because they don't want to get a consequence. "I didn't know my baby sister was standing there. I didn't mean to have the ball hit her." And on and on it goes forever.

If you establish clear boundaries, and if you and your child learn to communicate respectfully with each other, you have only one job, and that is to be consistent. Give consequences that are appropriate, and let the punishment fit the crime. Expect that your child will try to "bend the truth," but remember to give praise for behavior that is forthright. Your child is not a liar if he or she lies. Children are just trying to figure out who they want to become. Demonstrate honesty, and your modeling will be the best lesson of all!

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