What To Do When Your Kid Starts Lying

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cute-little-girl-smilingWhen your children are small and innocent, it’s difficult to imagine that one day soon they’ll start lying through their loose baby teeth about every little thing they do wrong. Your kid’s entrance into the world of white lies and untruths of other colors might make you feel like you’re failing at first, but relax: lying is a completely normal part of child development.

Before I became a mom, I figured lying was something that could be avoided just by having a really great, open relationship with your kids. I was also convinced that the little angels wouldn’t possibly figure out what lying was until they were at least 11 or 12. So, you can imagine my surprise when my daughter recently started bending the truth at the tender age of three-and-a-half. Parenting fail? As it turns out, not so much.

According to Parents Magazine, kids begin experimenting with the truth as early as age two. Of course, lies at that age aren’t devious. There’s no real motive behind them. Kids just have trouble distinguishing between fact and fiction and when that’s paired with their strong emotions and their growing desire to control situations, sometimes the lines get a little blurry. As kids get older, their manipulation of the truth becomes a little more nuanced and a little more purposeful.

Parents spoke to Dr. Victoria Talwar, an associate professor in the Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology at McGill University, who stressed the importance of addressing lies early and often, even with the very youngest kids.

Use every opportunity to explain what a lie is and why it is bad. Introduce the subject (ideally, soon after your child tells the lie so the memory will still be fresh). Start with, “Let’s talk about lying and why it’s not okay.” “It may not be a long conversation, but give them the message that honesty is important,” Dr. Talwar says.

The way Talwar puts it, punishing kids for lies is not nearly as important as letting them know why honesty is preferable in the first place. In fact, her research — discussed at length in the parenting book NurtureShock – supports the idea that kids stop lying not when they’re threatened with consequences, but when they understand how their dishonesty hurts other people.

As parents, we want our kids to be honest all the time and we tend to treat honesty like a badge of honor, but it’s important to remember that demanding the whole truth and nothing but the truth can lead our kids astray if we’re not taking the time to explain why it matters. If we’re being honest with ourselves, we lie for protection and we’re more likely to be honest when we know our lies could hurt the ones we love. Kids are the same way. They just want to please you, so use that to your advantage and let them know that honesty is the way to do it.

(Photo:  / Shutterstock)