It happens all too soon; your super sweet child tells you something that you know is the exact opposite of what actually happened. If you can’t trust them, what can you do?
It is pretty normal and not at all devious for children to lie at a young age. Up until the age of 5, imagination and reality are very nebulous in a child’s mind. Around 5 years old is the age where Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and other stories start to get separated into fiction and non-fiction and with it, children start to experiment with truth and fiction. They don’t see it as manipulation at this age. One thing that you could do to help with those situations is to ask about the future, rather than the past. This is an important part of problem solving.
In each situation, you will never know exactly what happened so whenever you come up on a situation where something undesirable has happened, you try to figure out what the problem is and what some solutions are. Instinctively, we want to find out what happened and who did what and this is an open invitation for children to either fib, lie or just state the situation from their point of view. This often looks like:
Mom: “What happened?”
Child A: “I didn’t do it!”
Child B (if more than one child is involved”): “He broke it!”
Child A: “It wasn’t my fault! He did it!”
Either Child: “No I didn’t!”
Mom: “You are both grounded!”
And this could could go on for a while and I didn’t make specifics because the conversation is often the same and we never really find out what did happen and it’s possible they are both lying. When you are problem solving, it looks more like this:
Mom: “What happened? What’s the problem here?”
Child A: “I didn’t do it!”
Mom: “Is the problem that the toy broke?”
Child B: “He broke it!”
Mom: “Is the problem that the toy broke? If it is, then how can we solve the problem?”
Child A: “We could put it back together?”
Child B:”But it will never be the same!”
Mom: “So one idea is that we can try to put it back together. Another idea is that we can try to find a way to get another of the same toy. What do you guys think?”
And then it goes on this way with more discussion and finally either a solution that everyone is happy with or a solution that mom puts the toy away. Your whole goal with problem solving is working into the future and not delving on the past.
As children get older (5 years old and on..) then may lie to get something and this will feel like a dagger to the heart, but it is still normal and not something to fret over.
It is important to look at what is the reason behind the lie? What is he trying to do? Is he trying to fit in with his friends? Is he questioning the purpose of a rule? This is a great conversation starter to see into his mind and start problem solving.
Most older children will lie to protect their interests. When I was about 8 years old, my mother told me that I HAD to wear my hat to school or I would freeze to death. So everyday, I would put my hat on and as soon as I was around the corner, I would remove my hat so that I wouldn’t have hat head when I got to school. I needed to protect my reputation, make sure that the other kids liked me. And when my mom asked me later if I wore my hat, I would say, “yes.” Our interests were radically different. She wanted me to stay warm, I wanted to have friends. You have to look at the motivation behind the action and start the conversation there.
Natural consequences are the best teachers. You can tell children over and over not to lose their toys or that if they are wet, they’ll be cold, but until they experience it themselves, they aren’t really going to learn.
Another instance where a child might lie is if you tell them not to bring a toy with them to school, and then later you find it in their backpack. They were lying to you, but they were only trying to protect their interests.
So you can set up a situation by saying, “I wouldn’t bring that toy if it were me, because it is special and irreplaceable. It would be a huge bummer if it broke or was lost.” Then it is up to them whether or not to bring it. You have set it up that it isn’t a good idea, but they won’t learn until they lose or break a toy. Then you can be very empathetic (don’t say “I told you so!” No one likes to hear that and it doesn’t teach empathy) and say, “I’m so sorry that happened. I can help you look for 5 minutes but then we have to leave.”
All kids lie to a degree especially when no one is getting hurt by the lie. It is normal and even adults will have small lies here and there. The best way to teach honesty is to model it and know that no one is perfect.