“No, I didn’t do it. I don’t know who did it. It wasn’t me.” are some of the most common responses you get on asking a child if they did something that they weren’t supposed to do.
There’s little you can do when you’re not sure of the truth. But in case you manage to see through their perfectly woven imaginative story, you need to find out why they were not truthful.
Children may be untruthful for a variety of reasons. These may range from innocent fibs to avoid getting into trouble or to protect their feelings. Only when you zero down on the reason for their fibbing, can you take appropriate measures to change this before it becomes a habit.
Let’s try and understand the most common reasons why children are not always truthful.
To gain something or avoid a task
In most cases, young children lie to get out of doing something or to get what they want.
For instance, a child is likely to lie to their parents about drinking their glass of milk (if they don’t like milk!) or brushing their teeth before bed.
Victoria Talwar, PhD, a leading researcher at McGill University in Montreal, says, “The act of manipulating the truth for personal gain is a developmental milestone, much like learning to get dressed by yourself or to take turns.” However, she suggests that the habit must be nipped in the bud as soon as possible lest it becomes ingrained.
Tip: Raising your voice when you catch your child fibbing is not the answer. It may not end up stopping your child, but make them think of more inventive ways of lying. Explain to them why it is wrong. Try to set an example. Always be honest in front of them. e.g. think twice about making a false excuse to your boss to take a day off in front of your child.
To experiment with their imagination
Primary school years is the age of imaginary friends, monsters under the bed, and talking rainbows. At that age, children find it hard to differentiate reality from fiction. And so, they make up tales.
These tales are sometimes wishful thinking. For instance, your child may tell you that their friend (fantasy) never has to eat spinach. They insist on their fantasy world being real.
In such cases, instead of bursting your child’s bubble, it is best to teach them the importance of healthy eating. In addition, ask them to educate their imaginary friend about the benefits of it so that they can do it together.
As long as these tall tales are not affecting your child’s daily life, they are not a problem. Remember that fantasising is just a way for children to process new ideas and get accustomed to changes around them.
To avoid hurting others’ feelings
Sometimes, when children are dishonest, it becomes an indicator of prosocial behaviour. Remember the last time your spouse made you dinner that didn’t taste very good, and you told her that it was the most delicious meal you had ever eaten? Your child might have taken note of it and could start seeing lying as a way to save others from disappointment. In their mind, it might be an idea of being polite.
While this seems like a harmless form of lying, it can soon turn into a matter of concern. For children, fibbing about loving grandma’s cakes and not telling you about the fight at school to avoid upsetting you fall within the same moral plane.
To ensure that this doesn’t happen, you should teach children to be honest without being harsh.
For instance, if they don’t like the gift or food, they can always say “Thank you. That was very kind of you,” instead of lying. This way, they will learn what is socially acceptable and, at the same time, know the importance of being honest.
To enhance self-esteem
Children can sometimes feel low on confidence when they see their peers doing well in life. To escape this, they might tell lies to make themselves come across as more talented and leave a good impression on others.
For instance, your child may go around telling their classmates how they won at an unbeatable video game and how the other players started to cheer them on.
If not stopped at an early age, not being truthful can give birth to compulsive behaviour at later stages. You must sit with your child to help them rebuild their confidence. Have them do challenging tasks and help them complete them. This will build their self-esteem, and help your child avoid lying about their achievements.
Most children lie to get out of trouble or shirk responsibility. While a little dishonesty coupled with mischief can be ignored, if you spot a pattern, you must attend to the problem at once.
Teach your child the value of truth-telling and how it establishes trust among two parties. Address your child’s lies in a straightforward manner and help them understand the negative aspects of it. For instance, you can always warn them about the embarrassment that might follow when their peers find out the truth.
At Beansprouts, our educators cultivate a positive environment for our students. They are given the freedom to speak their hearts out and explore different elements of the world around them.