Kids lie for many of the same reasons adults do, whether to avoid punishment or to impress.
According to TODAY, new research has shed new light on the young liars and offers some good news. Kang Lee, a professor at the University of Toronto and director of the Institute of Child Study, found that when your preschooler starts to lie, it’s a sign that he’s reached a new developmental milestone in the way he organizes information in his mind. It’s perfectly normal, and expected.
According to Lee’s study, lying is still fairly uncommon for 2-year-olds, but rampant from age 4 through mid-teens. By age of 7, kids are really good at looking truthful even when they lie. So good that even their own parents can’t tell when they are being less than truthful. After about age 17, lying starts to decrease.
What are some ways to keep kids honest? Here are a few tips:
Skip the angry punishment. If you yell or retaliate when your child messes up, you’ll simply encourage more lying in the future. Instead, respond to any misbehavior in a calm, respectful, relevant way. Your kids will be much more likely to tell the truth if they know you won’t fly off the handle.
Don’t prompt a lie. For example, if you know your kid hasn’t cleaned her room, don’t ask if they have. Instead, say, “What’s your plan for getting your room clean before suppertime?”
Uncover the whole truth. When your child lies, it may be a warning sign that something else is going on, most likely that he doesn’t feel safe to tell the truth or doesn’t want to disappoint, for instance. If you catch your child in a lie, try to get to the root. Say, “I can see it’s tough for you to tell me the truth. What would help you be honest?” The more you understand why your child lies, the more effective you’ll be at training him to stick to the facts.
Encourage honesty. Whenever your child fesses up, especially if it’s difficult, be sure to notice. Say, “I know it was hard for you to tell me the truth, but I really respect you for it. You’re really growing up!”
Come clean yourself. Kids aren’t born knowing how to lie — they learn it from their parents and other trusted adults. They hear and understand more than you know, so when you call in “sick” to a meeting and head out on a bike ride instead, your children will take it to mean that it’s OK to lie. Be truthful, even if it’s hard — and your kids will eventually learn.
It will take some time for your kids to build up the level of trust needed to be more truthful, so be patient with them. If your child continues to lie often, even after you implement a few positive changes, especially if the lies are intended to hurt others, continue to seek professional help.