‘Mummy, I saw Daddy put on a pair of your knickers.’
‘I saw Daddy put on your knickers and then run around the kitchen chasing me.’
Now, this conversation with your 4-year old will either result in an awkward conversation with the hubby, or you have just experienced the telling of a rather tall tale. Don’t immediately panic that your child is going to grow up to be a pathological liar.
No one wants a liar for a child - we want our children to have good morals. So, let’s have a look at why kids lie at each different age, and what you should do about it.
If you ask your two or three year old if they have a dirty nappy, then chances are they will lie (even if you can smell it three rooms away) because they don’t want to go through the long-winded process of having it changed.
These self-serving little lies are generally the first ones that your kids will try out. At this early age, they don’t understand that lying is wrong. They don’t really know the difference between fact and fiction. Instead of reprimanding them strongly for lying, gently explain the consequence so they understand the situation. This will begin a good moral grounding.
From three to five years old, children have a wonderful relationship with their imaginations. They can seamlessly blend the fictional into the real world. This can include imaginary friends, fantasy experiences, mystical places and talking animals. These tall tales of play, or wishful thinking are not really lies, but more a display of their creative imagination.
It is important to keep things in perspective with tall tales, try not to be too concerned. As long as your child shows an ability to build great relationships with the people around them, as well as their imaginary friends, then there is no reason to worry. Fantasising is purely a way for children to amuse themselves, or to try and process new ideas.
There are two types of lies at this age, the white lie and the save-my-own-bacon lie.
Have you ever had a situation where no one owns up to tracking mud through the house, thinking there is safety in numbers by all denying responsibility. But after the threat of losing some toys, of just the sheer pressure of time, one will admit responsibility. Then the second will burst into tears, because they are the true culprit.
The first child to admit was telling a white lie. Lying to protect someone else. Even though they know that lying is wrong, they are prepared to do it for compassionate reasons. The second child told a full-blown lie so that they wouldn’t get in trouble, to serve their own needs.
School aged children tell lies for a number of reasons – afraid of disappointing someone, scared they will get in trouble, or they are pushed beyond their capabilities. Often these reasons are forgivable because you can see the logic behind them. So instead of jumping to instant punishment, try and see if there is a deeper issue causing the lie.
The tween years will probably expose you to a whole raft of lying across a number of areas. The usual areas are around homework, teeth brushing, room tidying and device time. These occasional lies are to be expected at this age, especially as your child will slowly be given more independence. Let them know your displeasure when you catch them out, but don’t be too hard on them.
If the occasional lie turns into a constant lie, then it might be time to dig deeper. Often children who suffer from anxiety will lie to help themselves feel more comfortable in a certain situation. If you fear that your tween is suffering from anxiety, then you will want to speak to a medical professional and monitor what is going on with them.
Don’t be surprised if your tween stops telling you all the juicy gossip from school as well. This is very normal as they begin to mature. You should be more concerned if they still want to tell you every single nitty-gritty detail at 13 and 14.
Teaching your tween about lying will not be a lesson they learn overnight. The best way to teach them is by setting a good example. So don’t lie about the age of your kids to get cheaper tickets, don’t fudge their reading logs and spelling homework, and try your best to be true to your word.
Explain how lying can damage your credibility and people’s trust in you, therefore possibly ruining relationships. It will sink in over time, and hopefully they grow up to be an honest adult.