HONESTY is always touted as being the best policy, so when a little one lies, it can be worrying for some parents who fear that their child might grow up to become compulsive liars. But lying is a completely natural part of the growing-up phase for most children and most times has nothing to do with their upbringing. This is because children generally love fantasies, as evidenced by their heavy consumption of fairytale books and cartoons.
“They do not know the significance of lies. They just think that they are telling stories, telling what they think. But they do not understand the moral implications of lies,” explained psychiatrist Dr Yvonne Bailey-Davidson.
Children start to tell lies from as early as three years old, because this is the time they usually start to realise that parents are not mind readers and so they can get away when they try to cover up their misdeeds. Children also lie to divert punishment or to impress someone. And then there are those children who lie to gain attention or to manipulate a situation. Some children lie, too, because they are from households where adults lie openly. Instead of being discouraged from lying, their parents’ actions give the impression that what they are doing is okay.
“As they grow older and see how parents behave and how they act and so on, they copy that, because the adults are supposed to be the role models,” said Dr Bailey-Davidson.
But while lying is a part of the growing up phase, it can destroy the trust between you and your child and should, therefore, never be encouraged. Worse yet is the fact that your child can become so good at lying that it becomes a compulsive disorder. At this stage the habit becomes pretty hard to break and can be carried over into adulthood.
“They (parents) must explain to them that they cannot make up stories and that those types of stories are called lies and people do not like them. You have to explain to them what it is because they don’t understand and you have to explain to them repeatedly for it to stick,” said Dr Bailey-Davidson.
Here are other ways you can make your child more honest.
1. Praise your children more often so they won’t feel the need to exaggerate and make up stories to gain the attention of their friends. When you boost their self-esteem, they will feel less inclined to have outsiders boost it for them.
2. Develop a discipline strategy if they continue to lie over a prolonged period and after many warnings. But discipline should only come after you have explained to your child the reasons they shouldn’t lie and the consequences of doing so.
3. Don’t label your child a liar. By doing so, you might negatively affect his/her self-esteem, thereby leading him to lie more.
4. Encourage good communication between you and your child so they won’t feel the need to hide the truth from you.
5. Help your child avoid situations that would force them to lie. Instead of accusing them of doing things in an aggressive manner, try to be composed as you address them about something they might have done.
It is going to take a while before your child break out of his/her lying ways, but persistence is key and will pay off. By the age of eight, most children usually breaks out of this phase where they feel they need to lie. If they persist beyond this point, then more serious interventions are needed.