It’s so common, and people write to me all the time asking what to do about it!
I am noticing that so many of us feel incredibly triggered when our children lie to us – not so much by the topic they’re lying about but by the fact that they lied. On the surface, it appears that we all value honesty, transparency, and authenticity. It’s so interesting then to look at the ways people lie, and the ways they do it.
Firstly, lying is developmentally appropriate for young children. At about the age of 3, they begin to realize that we’re not in fact mind readers and don’t know everything that’s going on. They realize we have a different perspective. For example, we like broccoli but they don’t.
Preschoolers often tell us something that is not the truth, but it’s not to deceive us or purposely tell us a lie. Often, they don’t fully differentiate between their imaginary world and the real world, or they speak as if what they’d like to be the truth, is the truth. Similarly you could see an imaginary friend as a lie – but it’s not quite that. As they mature, they might start to realize they can use their imagination to share realities that benefit them, ie. lies.
That’s when we move into the next step of lying, which is often about not wanting to do something or not wanting adults to know something! So they’ll tell us only part of the truth or a different truth all together. It’s kind of cute because they’re often not good liars and often they share the reality they would like to be true like, “My doll did it” or “I finished all my vegetables.”
At around 4-6 years old they start to lie to please us or appease us. They’re becoming aware of what we probably want to hear. They’re covering their behinds, or know what usually happens when they brake something, hit someone, or eat all the chocolate. They don’t want to have to deal with that, so lying becomes a tool for self preservation. All of this is 100% normal and healthy. I want to encourage myself and all parents to *ahem* get off their high horse and not get so triggered when our kids lie. I assure you – they will lie. Just like I can assure you, they will stumble and fall. It’s not plausible to avoid it. Knowing that brings a lot of relief for me. It’s not a question of whether they’ll lie, but when.
What’s YOUR Relationship With the Truth?
Truthfully, I think we say that we value the truth but the real truth, is that most of us are in a somewhat ambivalent relationship with the truth.
Do I look fat in these jeans? Were you attracted to the person at the checkout? Sometimes you don’t actually want to hear the truth…
…and do we tell ourselves the truth?
I’m off sugar.
I don’t buy that much on Amazon.
I go to bed early.
I don’t watch that much Netflix.
We’re lying to ourselves all the time. It’s almost so common it’s considered morally OK, like fudging your tax return or telling the police officer you had a good reason to speed. We lie to our children. I have told my children there’s no chocolate in the house. I’ve avoided telling them the truth about going out at night after they fall asleep and we have a babysitter. So isn’t lying a lot more normal and human than we think it is? I think we all bend the truth a little to suit our needs. “Your friends are also leaving the park.” “That pet went to live on a farm.” “Yes, Santa is real.”
Why do we do it?
We lie to protect ourselves, to stay in right relationship, and to make ourselves look good. We also know the person is going to act strongly. So kids don’t mentioned they failed a test, hide that they’ve been putting their lunch in the garbage everyday, or don’t admit they hit their sister. They think smoother sailing will be the result of not telling those truths.
- Model Honesty and Transparency. Share the truth about the tough questions.
- Edit your lie. For example, “You know what? I said there was only baking chocolate but it’s actually real chocolate. It’s just not the right time to eat it right now.”
- Show that you value honestly over smooth sailing. Tell them there’s chocolate in the house even when they’ll be upset. This shows you do value telling them the truth more than keeping the peace. Show gratitude when your kids share the truth with you!
- Help them save face. Call them “in” instead of calling them “out”. We’re not shaming or humiliating, or doing it in front of someone else. Call them “in” means telling them why it bothered you without making it a big deal. Move through the lie quickly and get to the crux of the issue.
Remember there’s a powerful link between truth and trust. My child needs to make themselves trustworthy, and it’s something I re-emphasize with them. The flip side is, when the children tell me “Are you telling me the truth?” I can confidently look them in the eye and say “Do I ever lie to you?” Lastly, we need to be trustworthy with their truth.
What was the most unbelievable lie your child told you? How did you react? Did you feel triggered? Did you laugh because it was so obvious? Share in the comments.