Pants On Fire! When kids lie

Lying comes in shades. We all say lying is wrong, but we excuse ‘white’ lies – lies to save a person’s feelings, for instance. The ambiguous nature of lying makes it difficult for small children to grasp. Before we shake our fingers at our kids for stretching the truth, or even for a boldfaced lie, think for a moment if they might have overheard you telling your sister-in-law (the chatty one) that something was on the stove to get off the phone, or perhaps telling a ticket taker that your 13-year-old is 12 to get a discount. Children absorb and learn from our behaviour. Let’s face it; we all know when our kid is telling a whopper. But how should we react?

“The best thing to do is stay neutral. Don’t humiliate. Give them a chance to come back to you with the truth,” says family therapist, Jennifer Kolari. It’s fine to let a few little fibs go without drama and confrontation, but gently letting a child know that they didn’t put one over on you is a learned skill. For instance, if your daughter says that she certainly didn’t feed their carrots to the dog, remind her – using humour if you can – that you know she hates carrots and Fido particularly enjoys them. Silence and a knowing look can often clue a child into being discovered in an untruth. If we don’t make the small things a big deal, when we react to the big ones it will mean more.

When the large lie comes along, one that has to do with safety or an illegal activity, try taking a calm, listening approach and give the child a chance to talk it out. Getting upset makes a child shut down. It’s fine, however, if they get upset, that’s part of dealing with the reality of what they’ve done. Humiliating kids drives them further away. The easier a parent is to talk to, the less likely a child will grow more deceptive with time.

“Let your child know that you know the truth is something different from what they are telling you and not being believed is a natural consequence of lying. Let your child know they are loved and that you are sorry they feel they cannot tell the truth,” says Kolari. “Give consequences as necessary, but never humiliate them as this will just make them better liars. Let them know you want to work with them to help them feel that they can tell the truth.”

Kolari says that if you have to tell a white lie for situational or ethical reasons, discuss your decision with your child and take responsibility. “This is a complicated issue and we can’t always assume children will sort it out on their own. They need our guidance.”

Kolari admits she lied as a youngster, “When I was five, I told our neighbours I was in the Nutcracker Suite at the O’Keefe Centre in Toronto. After a congratulatory gift basket made its way to my house and I made a long march to the neighbours’ to apologize, I rethought the benefits of making up stories.

“Children remember not what you said in the conversation but how you made them feel. Make them feel like telling the truth.”

Jennifer Kolari can be contacted through her Website:

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