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Tuesday, December 9, 2008


For most parents discovering that their child tells lies is upsetting and can be traumatic.Children and adults can lie in all sorts of ways. Not all of them are harmful or wrong.

It’s been said that almost all young children ‘lie’. In other words, for young children up to the age of about five or six lying is probably more ‘normal’ than ‘abnormal’. There are two good reasons for this:

First, a young child’s conscience works differently to that of an older child or adult. Older children and adults are able to work out before they do something whether doing it is a good thing or not. Young children are only able to work this out after they have done something.

Second, children love to fantasize. Children making up stories about what happened and exaggerating parts of those stories is absolutely normal. It is to do with their excitement about being able to talk and, to a degree, about being in control of their own lives. So what appears to be lying can just be children being children.

Lying as ‘white lies’
It may seem strange to say but most parents teach their children to lie. Think of a family visit to a relation or friend. Your child has been bored all afternoon and doesn’t like your friends or
their children. But it’s quite likely that when you leave, you’ll expect your child to say, ‘Thanks, I’ve had a nice time’. Think of opening a birthday present. However disappointing the present might be, most of us are still expected to say, ‘Thanks, it’s lovely’ and we expect our children to say the same. So politeness can also include an element of lying, which is why we use the term ‘white lie’. It’s a lie which it’s OK to tell. But children have to learn this – they don’t know it automatically. So in trying to be the best parents we can, we may actually be confusing our children about lying instead of helping them.

Lying as defence
Whenever we tell lies it’s usually because we are on the defensive. We may be nervous about getting found out. We may be frightened of the person who is confronting us. We may be supporting a friend or colleague. Children are no different. Children ‘learn’ to lie when what happens when they tell the truth is worse than what would happen if they got away with a lie. In such cases, children aren’t just lying for the sake of it – they are lying to prevent something which they know or imagine to be worse happening to them. Children who lie continuously do so because they have ‘learnt’ only too well that it is easier to lie than to tell the truth.

Things you can do to help your child to tell the truth:
Set the best example you can. Whenever possible, tell your child the truth so that he or she doesn’t feel let down or disappointed too often.

Try to understand the reason for the ‘lying’. If it’s harmless fantasy, it can also be fun.

Don’t respond too negatively when your child tells the truth. If they have done something wrong, it’s quite right to let your child know you are displeased. But it isn’t helpful to get very angry. Next time, your child will wonder whether it’s worth telling the truth after all.

When your child tells the truth, make it clear that you are proud of him or her.
Let your child know you are disappointed when he or she lies.

Work out the situation in which your child is lying. Very few children lie all the time about
everything. So identify the situations in which your child lies and think about how those
situations have cropped up.

Read your child stories and fairytales in which telling the truth is emphasized. Fables like ‘The
Boy Who Cried Wolf’ are useful.

Make sure your child knows that you still love him or her. If a child has self-respect, he or she
won’t feel the need to lie as much. Remember that it’s easier to help a child not to lie than it is to stop a child who lies a lot of the time. If your child does lie all the time, ask for some professional help. There is usually an underlying reason which needs to be helped not hidden.

To Sum Up
Children, like adults, can tell lies for a variety of reasons. It is important that you understand why your child might tell a lie so that you can work at supporting your child and encouraging him or her to trust in you and be open with you.

an extract from
Dorridge Junior School
Information leaflets

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