October 21, 2015
Lying is a natural development of childhood. A child learns to lie when they realize that their parents are not all knowing and cannot see around walls to view their misdeed. They are able to communicate this knowledge between 2 and 3 years old as a lie.
According to Po Bronson, we have a misconception that as a child ages they will learn to discern that a lie is wrong morally and then stop. Young children lie once an hour and parents often let these lies slide citing age and inability to know right from wrong. Parents will admonish the act that got them into trouble but not the cover up lie that followed. Subsequently, from her point of view, the lie was not a problem because it went undiscussed. If a child continues to lie and then starts to get away with transgressions, the table is set for trouble. Read Po Bronson's article for more on this topic!
We fall into this trap early when we gloss over lies or have our own white lies that a child cannot conceivably discern as ok. An untruth is an untruth and if we sanction it then it must be ok.
At this stage the lies are usually comical. A child will say they did not touch the freshly painted wall while their hands are covered in red paint. As they age into elementary school, these fabrications become more elaborate in order to avoid a consequence to their exploring and sometimes truly mischievous behavior. These truly are natural behaviors that only grow more troublesome as we, the parents, put children into situations where lying is the best answer to the problem.
If a child is standing there with red hands, do not ask them if they did it. That is encouraging them to choose a course of action. A better action is to question why they did it. The act of making them choose will in many children encourage more elaborate lies over time especially if they occasionally get away with it.
Having consequences for behaviors that are either witnessed or known about is just jurisprudence. If you have no knowledge of the situation, it may be best to let it go or maybe praise the truth if told. In the case of sibling issues, the "he said, she said", offer a time out for all involved or a "please go work it out yourselves". This will allow them some sense of self regulation and conflict resolution as they succeed in moving forward together in order to play again.
Our job cannot devolve into judge and jury for siblings and their issues. This will invariably lead to better and more manipulative lawyering to curry our softer judgement.
A better plan of attack is to praise the truth telling around a transgression and thus providing a lesser consequence as a reward to truth. This allows the child or adolescent to get back into a parent's good graces with minimal pain. This is positive reinforcement at its best.
Help your child avoid scenarios that encourage a lie.