Creative Child

Why Kids Lie and How to Encourage Your Child to Tell the Truth

by Deborah Song

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How to Encourage Truth-Telling

Understand the motive. The reasons why kids lie are wide and varied. Before you can voice your disappointment, it’s important to understand why your child lied to you in the first place. Keep the discussion short and refrain from making it a moral issue, which is too complex for young children. Asking too many why questions will likely lead to making a child feel bad about who he is, which might encourage more lying. Instead, treat the lecture the way a cop would when pulling you over for a speeding ticket. Ask your child if he knows what he did was wrong. Explain what the infraction was. Then write the ticket.

Avoid harsh punishments. Following up behavioral traits with consequences is the only way to reinforce or discourage them. But the effectiveness of a consequence will largely depend on how appropriate it is. Studies show that children from families who enforce strict rule-following and discourage open dialogue report lying more frequently.

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If your child was trying to gain your approval, then perhaps the best consequence should be some quality one-on-one time with you. Or if your child was lying to avoid a punishment, ask yourself if your reaction to his mistakes have been rational. Perhaps you’ve been moody and short with your child lately. Would you have lied if you were in his shoes? Could you blame him? Even as an adult, you may have done the same when faced with an unreasonable boss or family member.

But if your child was lying to test boundaries or to elicit a reaction, then perhaps they should not be allowed to play outside with his friends for the next couple of days. The best consequences mirror real life. You could explain that lying makes people unable to trust you. And if the lying persists, your child will go on to lose relationships and friends in the future. Since you don’t want this to happen to your child, keeping him from playing outside with their friends for the next couple of days might help him realize real life repercussions to lying.

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Reward truth-telling.  Telling the truth requires bravery and the discipline to think before speaking. So the next time your child tells the truth when it wasn’t convenient to do so, reward your child with encouraging words. Positive feedback loops are even more powerful and effective than negative ones.

Provide empathy. Don’t forget that you won’t be the only one disappointed with your child.  They will be disappointed in themselves too. Remind them that their mistakes don’t determine who they are. And explain that while everyone lies at some point in their life, not everyone continues to lie. One of the most powerful ways to provide empathy to your child is by sharing a personal story about how you lied when you were a child. I once did this with my child and I saw her countenance change in a sudden flash from one of self-loathing to an encouraged child ready to move on from her mistake.

All kids lie at some point. It’s a part of the developmental process. While no parent wants to see their child continue to lie, an over-the-top punishment might be counter-productive. The best way to encourage your child to tell the truth is by seeking to understand the motive for lying, creating an atmosphere where he can be honest with you, and following through with consequences that are appropriate.

Deborah Song is the founder of travelbyword.com, a cruelty-free company committed to creating travel accessories that help travelers journey with ease, efficiency and elegance. She loves to travel the globe in pursuit of good food, wider life perspectives and great adventure stories with her kids. Deborah is a Canadian-born, mompreneur and Los Angeles-based writer, who obtained her master’s in journalism from New York University. You can find her travel stories at www.blog/travelbyword.com.

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