All children tell fibs or elaborate lies to escape punishment or avoid being caught out doing something wrong, but as parents it can be a trying and frustrating time.
My five-year-old kept telling lies about having a sore tummy so he couldn’t eat dinner, but then it miraculously was better when dessert was mentioned.
We talked about the boy who cried wolf and explained that if he kept lying all the time, then when he was actually telling the truth, no one would believe him. Of course this fell on deaf and hungry ears.
So what can mums and dads to do navigate this seemingly endless stage of lying? Well according to Australian parenting expert Michael Grose it’s simple.
We have to identify the purpose or reason of a child’s lie and this will help us figure out how to deal with them.
Michael Grose is an Australian parenting expert that has written nine books including Thriving! and the best-selling Why First Borns Rule The World and Last Borns Want to Change It.
Top 4 reasons children lie:
1. To avoid negative consequences
If your child spills milk but then swears black and blue it wasn’t them when there is no possible way it could be anyone else; Grose suggests parents avoid making a scene.
He then says children should be made to help clean up the mess so they don’t escape the consequence of their behaviour.
2. A matter of trust
When a parent insists their child stops visiting or hanging with someone they deem unsuitable, but the child keeps doing so, eventually this behaviour will be found it.
Grose advises parents confront their children with the truth and deal with the matter of the illicit visits by stopping them from going out after school for a few weeks.
He then suggests the matter of being lied to is dealt with separately and parents remind their children that it was now difficult to trust them when they didn’t tell the truth.
3. Fantasising to make them appear more exciting or interesting
Some kids continually exaggerate to make everything appear bigger or better than in real life, they do this to appear more exciting or interesting than they think they are.
Grose says it’s best to go along with these tales but let children know you’re aware they are not telling the truth without bursting their bubble.
It is fine to exaggerate, but they should never be too far away from reality.
He says persistent fantasisers often need plenty of encouragement and told that while it’s fun and okay to pretend, they don’t need to fantasise to build themselves up.
4. An imaginary friend
Often kids will use imaginary friends to avoid doing things they don’t want to do such as going to bed or tidying up their room.
If it only happens once in a while then it can be a bit of fun, but Grose says it can become tiring if it’s a continuous avoidance strategy.
He suggests the direct approach such as: “Well maybe your friend could be right, but I’m your mum and I know it is bedtime”.
Why you should not overreact to your children’s lies
Grose says instead of losing the plot when your child lies, it’s better for parents to recognise the child’s goal and act in a way that prevents the behaviour from achieving its purpose.
“There is little point moralising about the evils of lying. Children know that they should be good; they don’t need to be reminded all the time,” he says.
“Children will continue behaviours that serve a purpose, regardless of whether the actions are morally good or bad.
“It is more useful to ensure that lying doesn’t achieve its goal and to encourage children at every conceivable occasion.”
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