The Truth Behind Lying: Dealing with Your Child’s Fibs
As children, the moment we can differentiate between right and wrong, we’re taught that it’s always best to tell the truth.
Ask any parent and they will most likely tell you the one thing that they simply won’t put up with in their child is lying. Of course it’s worrisome; we all want our little humans to grow up into honest adults. But before we get too worked up over their fibs and convince ourselves that they are heading toward a life of crime, it’s important to understand that not all lies are created equal.
The reality is that children lie, and it has less to do with their moral compass than in the way their brains are wired. It takes time for our little ones to grasp concrete theories like cause and effect. So we have to be patient as their brains develop the ability to discern right from wrong, and to figure out that their actions have consequences.
It’s easy to blame ourselves and wonder what we are doing wrong if our child is constantly stretching the truth. When we come to terms with the biology behind our children’s lying, it helps us see the bigger picture – and removes any doubts, shortcomings, or blame that we may be feeling about our ability to parent.
Our children might be born with a moral compass, but it takes positive modeling from us to help guide their compass in the right direction.
The Survival Instinct
When our children are small, they depend on us to provide and care for them. If they do something dishonest – like sneak a cookie from the kitchen and we catch them in the act and angrily confront them – of course their biological response is going to be to lie. Their brain is sensing danger from the tone of our voice and all that it wants to do is protect itself from losing its security and protection. Parents often look at a problem with the moral code of an adult, and not that of a child who has yet to develop one.
Naturally, our first response is to punish, without fully understanding the motivation behind the action. That’s not to say we shouldn’t teach our children the lesson of cause and effect… Of course they need to learn that the things that they do have ramifications. But knowing that their lie is a reaction rather than a conscious decision to deceive us (which may happen as they get older) can guide us in how we deal with a situation, and also offer us valuable insight into the motivation behind their actions.
Honesty Is the Best Policy
The key to instilling a deep-rooted sense of honesty is by having a plan. Here are some ways that can help us in our quest to teach honesty:
Innocent Until Proven Guilty – When we catch our children lying and correct them, it’s important that we don’t approach each new instance with the mindset that our little one is automatically fibbing again. Perhaps they are and perhaps they aren’t. We have to go into each individual situation with an open mind and let our child learn about fairness. We ask questions and give our child an opportunity to tell the truth. Remember: Innocent until proven guilty.
Stay Connected – When we provide a strong presence in our little one’s life and they feel loved and valued, they won’t feel the need to be deceitful and lie. That’s not to say our four-year-old won’t tell a few tall tales, or our 11-year old won’t stretch the truth if it benefits their cause. But overall, when our kids feel loved, they want to please us and do the right thing.
No Half-Truths – If we want our little ones to be honest people, then we must create a truthful home where we encourage and expect complete honesty – “The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” If our own life is full of half-truths and little white lies, we may be sending out the message to our kids that there are certain situations where it’s acceptable to stretch the truth.
We should avoid pulling our children into the gray area between honesty and dishonesty by asking them to cover for us, and telling the neighbor that we are not home when we really are. And we also avoid covering for them by writing a note to their teacher saying that they were sick when they didn’t remember to finish an assignment. When it comes to honesty, we have to be clear with our children that we won’t allow any wiggle room for half-truths.
Watch the Words – We need to always be mindful of the things that we say to our children. “You are such liar!” or “Why can’t you be more honest like your brother?” are hurtful statements that have the potential to cause shame in them. We may believe that we are teaching our kids not to lie when we say things like that, but instead they might be picking up the unconscious message that they are “bad” people instead of good people doing a “bad” thing.
Expect the Truth – Even though our children will invariably lie from time to time, we must keep expecting the best from them. When we catch them in a fib, we have to let them know that while we don’t like what they did, we still love them and will be expecting more from them next time. We can say things like, “I know that you feel bad for lying about taking that cookie. I know you will do better next time.” When we expect the best from people, they usually want to prove us right.
Honest kids begin with honest parents. So always lead by example and live by the rule that honesty is indeed, the best policy.
Do your children have the tendency to tell tall-tales? How have you dealt with the situation?