Actress Lauren Holly recently wrote a blog wondering if her young sons were social deviants because they wouldn’t admit to stealing cans of soda from the fridge at home. In it, she accused them of lying and indicated her ongoing distress about their future.
The reality is that children lie. Preschool children between the ages of 2 and 4 will routinely tell lies that indicate more of a need to please a parent than to actively deceive. As children age, their lies become a little more calculating and deliberate, but most of the time the lies are harmless.
Sometimes kids will withhold the truth because the punishment for honesty is too intense or doesn’t fit the offense. Households that are punitive and harsh don't promote a safe enough space for self-disclosure.
Know that occasional fibs do not mean that you should turn your kid’s college fund into potential bail money. They provide an opportunity to talk about honesty, trust and the value of speaking authentically from the heart.
Parents should worry, though, if their children’s lies become more frequent and attempt to cover potentially destructive or dangerous behavior (substance use, sexual activity) or declining grades because of missed homework assignments or a lack or preparation.
It’s important to remember that adults lie too. If we are concerned about deception in our children, it is critical to examine our own behavior and modeling. How many times do you tell your child, “Don’t tell your Dad,” or shrug off a phone call by saying, “Tell them I'm not home”?
The next time you have a concern about whether your children are telling the truth, sit them down and frame the conversation with a basic request: “Will you promise to tell me the truth?” Research shows that approach works. They are eight times more likely to fess up. And that’s no lie.
Are you concerned about lies your child is telling? Post a comment and share why.
Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.