As the father of a six-year-old, I find myself playing detective far too often. While my wife and I let a few big whoppers slide, I do let our son know that I’m not buying his absurd excuses and tall stories, which are many. But how do I get him to stop lying so much in the first place? Neither of us is an overly strict parent. So, why is he fibbing so much and how do we get him to stop?
One of the most challenging tasks of parenting is teaching children not to lie. From the age of three or four, right till 18 or even 20, children and young adults choose to lie their way out of a situation, and parents wonder how they can teach them the value of telling the truth.
Children lie for a variety of reasons. They lie for parental approval, they lie to avoid trouble, they lie to cover up inadequacies. Some young children also lie because they don’t distinguish between fact and fiction.
To help children stop lying and choose truth, we have to make them experience truth-telling as a tangibly good thing, rather than an abstract virtue. A few things can facilitate telling the truth and discourage lying:
Ease up: Kids sometimes lie because they feel they’re not meeting our expectations. We need to, at such a time, take a good look at how we respond to our child’s errors or failings. If we leave a little room for imperfections, chances are that our children will need to lie less.
Avoid “awfulizing”: Once you have found out that your child has lied about something, it is very tempting to lecture him or her and, in your anxiety, “awfulize” the consequences of his or her lying. We project into the future, warning children that they will turn into criminals, be shunned, be mistrusted, and so on. This kind of huge canvas leaves the child confused and disconnected from the immediate reasons and consequences of the lie.
Focus on rectifying: Underscore the fact that admitting a mistake/error—rather than lying about it—increases the chances of quick fix of the problem, whether it is a lost notebook, a stolen pen or a broken lamp. Avoid getting stuck on blame and insisting on confessions; this is traumatic and exhausting for both you and your child. Focus on sorting out the consequences and move on. For instance, even if your child insists that he didn’t break the lamp, say: “But it is broken and now we have to mend it.” Then insist that the child be involved in the fix, even if it means forgoing a favourite TV programme to go to the repair shop or to mend it at home. This way, you’re not stuck at wanting the child to say, “Yes, I did it.” You move beyond where, without much verbalizing, the child has to accept responsibility for his actions.
Follow through: Sometimes, we are so desperate for children to tell the truth, we say: “If you tell the truth, you won’t be punished.” Letting kids off the hook once they accept a mistake is only half the job done. Getting them to make amends, in any small way, completes the lesson, makes them feel good about themselves again and allows you to give them that hug they need.
Demonstrate by your own actions, and with lying episodes in the house, that truth is light and easy to wear while lies are heavy and unpleasant to carry. Only then will kids grow up to actively choose the truth without being “policed”.
Write to Gouri at firstname.lastname@example.org