How to Discipline Your Child About Lying

Toddlers and preschoolers live in an interesting world where fantasy and reality mix. They enjoy cartoons, pretend play, Santa Claus, wicked witches, flying capes, make-believe on demand, and so on. Their storytelling often reveals hidden fears. For example, “Mommy, there’s a monster in my room! Come save me!” may be your child’s way of telling you he’s afraid of the dark. Toddlers and preschoolers can be convinced of almost anything. If they want to believe something badly enough, they can convince themselves of the truth in even the biggest lie.

Lying signals another step toward independence, as fledglings stretch their wings and push away from parental control. So what’s a parent to do? Your job is to understand the flavor of the lie and sell your child on the benefits of telling the truth. Knowing that the truth is important to you will make being honest more important to your child.

Child About Lying

Reinforce telling the truth.

Offer praise when you know you’re hearing the truth, whether it’s about something bad that happened or something good. This helps the under-six set begin to understand the difference between what’s true and what’s not.

Tell the truth.

When your preschooler asks for a cookie right before dinner, you might be tempted to say, “We don’t have any cookies,” instead of telling him the truth, which is, “I don’t want you to eat a cookie before dinner.” By lying to him, you’re telling him that it’s okay to lie when he wants to get out of doing something unpleasant. He knows where the cookies are, so don’t pretend he doesn’t. Say, “I know you want a cookie now, but when you’ve eaten your dinner, you can pick one out yourself.”

Learn the flavors of lying.

Lying comes in a variety of flavors. Plain old vanilla is the one we all know so well: lying to stay out of trouble. “I didn’t take the last cookie” is a good example. A more pungent flavor is lying to get out of doing something you don’t want to do. For example, your child might say, “Sure, Mommy, I brushed my teeth” when he hasn’t. And then there’s the ever popular, extra smooth lying that gets whipped up when children try to impress others with comments like, “I have three horses that I get to ride every day. So there!”

Be empathetic.

Understand the flavor of lying your child is using and respond accordingly. For example, when your child tells you that he didn’t mark his bedroom wall with crayons even though you know he did, tell him, “I understand that you don’t want to be punished, but I’m more disappointed that you chose to lie rather than tell the truth. You can always tell me the truth so we can fix the problem together” Your child will feel more comfortable facing the music and telling the truth when he knows you’ll be sensitive to his feelings.

Look for honesty.

Look for people and events that demonstrate honesty and truth. Point these out to your preschooler to reinforce your message that being honest is important.

What to Do

Show how lying hurts.

When your child is caught in a lie, explain to him how it hurts him as well as you. “I’m sorry you chose not to tell the truth. It makes me feel sad that I can’t trust what you say. Let’s work on telling the truth so I can believe what you tell me is true.”

Explain the difference between lying and telling the truth.

Preschoolers don’t always know that what they’re saying is a lie because it might seem like the truth to them. Help your child understand the difference between reality and fantasy by saying, “I know you want your friend to like you, but telling him that you have 101 dalmatians living at your house isn’t truthful. The truth is that you’d like to have all those dogs, but you only have one dog named Molly. She’s a really nice dog, and you love

Help your child accept responsibility.

When you send your son to do a chore such as putting the toys away in his room, he might lie to get out of doing the job by telling you that he already did it. Say, “I’m so glad you did what I asked. I’ll go see what a great job you did.” If your son says, “Oh no, Mommy, not yet,” you can be reasonably sure he’s avoided his responsibility. Check it out! If you discover that he lied, say, “I’m sorry you chose to lie about doing what I asked. I know you didn’t want to put all those toys away and didn’t want me to be disappointed, but doing what I ask and telling the truth are important. Now let’s go get the job done. I’ll watch while you pick up.”

Practice telling the truth.

When your child lies to you, he’s letting you know he needs practice telling the truth. Say, “I’m sorry you didn’t tell me the truth when I asked you if you had turned off the TV. Let’s practice telling the truth. I want you to say, “‘Yes, Mommy, I’ll turn off the TV when this show is over.’ Now let’s try it.”

Play make-believe with your child

To help your child understand the difference between truth and fiction, set aside time for him to make up stories. Then contrast this make-believe time with truth time in which he’s asked to tell the truth about what happened. When your child tells you something you know isn’t true, say, “That’s an interesting make-believe story you just told me. Now tell me a true story about what really happened.”

What Not to Do

Don’t test your child’s honesty.

If you know your child has done something wrong, asking him a question to which you already know the answer forces him into a dilemma: tell the truth and get punished, or lie and maybe get away with it. Don’t make him choose.

Don’t punish.

When you catch your child telling a lie in order to stay out of trouble, don’t punish him for doing so. Instead, teach him how to accept responsibility for making a mistake and to fix the problem it caused. For exam pie, say, “I’m sorry the wall has marks on it. Now we’re going to have to learn about taking care of walls. Let’s get the cleaning stuff and start cleaning. I’ll get the cleaner while you get the paper towels. See? Telling me the truth lets us fix the problem.”

Don’t lie.

Avoid exaggerating or making up stories to impress people, avoid consequences, or get out of doing what you don’t want to do.

Child Discipline

Don’t overreact.

Even if you’ve said a hundred times that you can’t stand a liar, going ballistic when your child lies only forces him to avoid telling the truth in order to keep you from being mad.

Don’t label your child a liar

Don’t make lying a self-fulfilling prophecy. A child who’s called a “liar” will believe that what he does is what he is. Your child isn’t what he does. You might not love his behavior, but you’ll always love him unconditionally.

Don’t take lying personally.

Little Danny isn’t telling you an exaggerated version of his morning at daycare just to make you crazy. He may actually believe that the classroom’s pet snake got out of its cage because he was so scared that it would. Listen to his story and tell him, “That’s an interesting story, sweetheart. I’m sure having the snake loose in the room would be really scary. Do you want me to talk to Miss Laura about keeping the snake safely locked up in its cage?”

Filed Under: Family & Relationships


About the Author: Alan Kennon lives a very happy life with two kids and a lovely wife. He likes to share his life time experiences with others about how they can improve their lifestyle and personality.

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