So you’re noticing you’ve caught your child lying and you’re not sure what to make of it. You remember her telling tall tales when she was a preschooler but now that she’s getting older and she’s just flat-out not telling the truth.
You’re eager to nip this habit in the bud.
I get it. Lying is a “developmental process,” meaning, as your child develops she will lie in different ways for different reasons.
So here’s the upside of lying:
Lying allows your child to keep information from you, for a variety of reasons. This can be a sign of cognitive growth and that your child is actually growing up and maturing.
But I understand you want your child to ‘fess up, own up to her actions, and take responsibility.
Let’s talk about why your tween is lying
First reason: The most common reason is that your child is lying to avoid punishment. A phenomena you will see with your tween is that she will lie about what she did, even if you saw her do it!
Your child is anticipating she will be disciplined or punished for what she did wrong. Her anticipation of this causes her to be afraid, and she’s trying to alleviate that fear by lying.
For you, that’s counter-intuitive since now you want to discipline her for the lie as well as what she originally did wrong. But for your child….that’s just where she is at developmentally.
Second reason: Your child lies to get out of doing a task she doesn’t want to (or can’t) do.
For example: Your child is struggling with English. If you asked her if she finished her essay assignment, your child may say yes even if she hasn’t.
Instead of lying, you’d like her to be open and honest and say: “I didn’t and it’s hard for me and here’s why…”
But it takes a lot of effort and skill to understand, acknowledge, and communicate that sentiment. For your child, lying feels like the easier route.
Third reason: Your child is aware that if she tells the truth she may disappoint you or hurt your feelings. This sensitivity is a strength! It means your child is thinking more about you than herself, is trying to be sensitive to your needs, and is attempting to protect you from hurt or pain. That’s an amazing skill that she’s developing, if you think about it!
What you can do to help lessen the lying
When your child lies:
(1)Take a step back, breathe, and avoid trying to go the punishment route.
(2) Have a conversation about the original issue. If we use the example of not completing homework you would want to focus in and talk to your kid about what is difficult about getting the homework done. “Tell me what is difficult about getting your homework done.”
(3) After that has been settled talk more about why she felt the need to lie about it. Help her to express the reasons why. A good first statement may sound like: “I’m wondering if this homework was feeling like it was too hard for you, and it was easier to say you completed it, than to ask me for help?”
(4) In this moment, it’s super critical that you don’t argue against her reasoning, what ever she says. These are her feelings. If you do, it reinforces for your child that she can’t come to you to talk and share her thoughts.
Bonus tip: If it’s something you saw happen (like hit at a sibling in front of you) or didn’t happen (like not cleaning up the dishes) don’t ask your child if it did happen. That just sets her up to possibly lie and that distracts you both from solving the problem at hand.
Bottom line: Yes it’s frustrating, but lying can be a sign of your child’s cognitive and emotional growth. Lying is not necessarily a bad thing. Stay in the moment and focus on solving the original issue. Stay judgement-free and solution-focused and you will have a lot easier road with your child when these sticky situations pop up.
Jenmarie Eadie is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who is passionate about helping children to become less stressed by giving them and their parents tools, support and encouragement. She received her Master’s in Social Work from Arizona State with a dual concentration in Children, Youth, and Families; and Behavioral Health. Her proudest accomplishment is following her dream of opening up a practice that is designed to focus on the whole family. She currently serves families in Southern California.