There are many different reasons why a child may lie and there are also different types of lying. Before a child is able to lie, he needs to be old enough to realise and understand the difference between reality and fantasy. For example, if you crossly ask a child under the age of two whether they just did something naughty, the child is likely to shake his head, however this should not be classed as lying because the child is likely to have forgotten the action or is just unsure of the difference between real life and the fantasy world.

You do not need to teach a child how to lie, unfortunately, it is a skill that they all acquire in their own time. Some children are able to lie from about the age of three but many do not acquire this skill until they are four. Almost all children will lie if they are in a threatening situation, so if you shout and shout at your child to answer the question, your child will get scared and is likely to lie.

Lies can be categorised into the following types:
1. Reaction lies
2. White lies
3. Bragging
4. Fantasy lies
5. Cover up lies

Reaction lies: Although this type of lie is not as serious as some, it still needs to be discouraged as the child may use it to gain attention. An exploratory lie is when a child lies in order to get a response or to receive attention. The child simply wants to see your reaction so he may tell you that his best friend is really mean to him and that he doesn’t like him even though you know that they have spent a very happy afternoon with each other.

White lies: Unfortunately, we are all guilty of telling the odd white lie, distortion of the truth or even an un-kept promise whether on purpose or accidently. This may be as simple as saying ‘if the wind changes, your face will stay that way’ or saying that they can have ice cream after dinner and then you forget. It is very difficult for a child to distinguish the difference between these lies and the truth and may get confused by them. It is also very likely that they will learn from you and if you continue with these white lies, they will start to use them too.

Bragging: This is when a child exaggerates their situation, they may say that they are having a big birthday party or that they were given lots of things as presents. A child may do this in order to impress his friends and also to gain attention. Although, this kind of lying is normally harmless, again it should be discouraged as quickly as possible and you should help your child to feel positive and proud of his own achievements. If it is not discouraged, it may become a habit for the child and people will begin to dislike him and view everything he says with scepticism and disbelief. Your child is likely to become very unhappy.

Fantasy Lies: This can be a complicated type as children should be encouraged to have fantasies, pretend friends and imagination, however if your child is regularly mixing their fantasy with reality, they may begin to blame their fantasy world for the wrong actions that they are doing themselves. It is advisable that you keep a close watch on your child and try and stop any unwanted behaviour from your child’s make believe world.

Cover up lies: These are best described as lies which deliberately mislead the truth. These include lies such as their room is tidy or they have done their homework and can therefore go out to play without being told, they also include the ‘it wasn’t me’ scenario. This type of lie can become very sophisticated and believable in older children and therefore parents need to try and stop this type of lying as early as possible.

What can I do?
The best way for a child to learn that lying is unacceptable is for you to never do it, even if by telling that little white lie, you are stopping someone from getting upset, for example if your child hears you say to a friend ‘Your haircut is fabulous and really suits you’ when it is not and doesn’t, your child will think that it is okay to lie. If your child is old enough to understand the principle of tact, then you must explain the situation to him and you must stress the importance of not lying and telling the truth, if your child does not understand tact then you must not lie.

If your child is lying, you should try to explain why it is wrong to lie. Try to use examples if possible.  Stories such as ‘the boy who cried wolf’ can be used to help your child to understand especially if they are young.

You should try and always remain calm if your child is lying to you, they may genuinely be confused about the reality of the situation and getting cross or angry at your child is likely to make them continue to lie.

If possible, you should try to take yourself out of the situation for a few seconds so that you can think about why they are lying. It is very unlikely that a young child will lie on purpose out of maliciousness, it is more likely to be out of fear of punishment.

If your child is making a lot of bragging type lies, be careful not to ridicule or make fun of them as many children who brag, do so because of low self-esteem. Therefore, it is more effective to help your child build up confidence by praising their achievements rather than punish continuously.

Although it is difficult, you must try to make punishments reasonable and always explain why the punishment is needed. A child will quickly learn that they do not want the punishment for their actions and will start to lie that they did not do it.  It is also best to try and make up and apologise as quickly as possible after a punishment.

Most importantly, you should always make sure that your child knows that you love them and that you will always love them even if you are a bit cross with them.

by Jenny, mum to William and James

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