Liar Liar, Pants on Fire

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Lying is a behavior that both parents and caregivers find particularly troublesome. Most children will exaggerate, stretch the truth or downright fib at one point or another. It is helpful to understand that young children often lie for very different reasons than adults do. This understanding will help you prevent and cope with lying and tale telling.

Reasons for Lying

  • To confirm to expected behavior, avoid punishment or receive reward. A young child may realize that a concrete action such as taking a cookie is wrong and yet see no problem with denying the action.
  • To avoid embarrassment and preserve self-esteem.
  • They don't yet understand the difference between fact and fiction. This is very common with younger children. Their fanciful tales may be a reflection of their wishes or simply a bountiful imagination.

    Prevent Lying

  • Avoid giving the child the opportunity or reason to lie. This may happen when you confront a child for an action you already know they did. If you catch a child with standing besides a broken vase, it is best not to say, "Did you smash my favorite vase?" Try, "I can see you broke my vase, can you tell me how it happened?"
  • Be a good role model and practice what you preach. A young child is not going to understand the fine line between a "white lie" and a fib. Attempt to be honest in all that you say and do.

    Reacting to Lying

  • Try not to accelerate the lying with such statements as, "If I find out you lied about this, I am going to put you in time out." Instead encourage discussion by saying, "I don't think that is what happened. I need you tell me what occurred so we can solve the problem."
  • Be sure to explain to the child in simple terms the importance of honesty. Talk about how it builds trust and social relationships.
  • Acknowledge the child's feelings or the cause of the lie. "I can see you may be embarrassed, but I need to know what happened so we deal with it together."

    © 2004, Joni Levine