As parents we never want to believe our little ones would ever be guilty of such an egregious offence as lying. We want to take our children at their word and trust that they will always tell us the truth.
I remember clearly the first time I caught my son in a lie. He was 3 and we were driving in the car on the way to the day home. The following scene ensued:
C: Mom, (name of daycare provider) says I don’t have to have a nap anymore!
Me: Well mommy says you do need to have a nap still.
I drop him off and am driving to work. When I arrive I check my phone to see the following message from my dayhome:
Daycare Provider: C told me that you said this morning he didn’t have to have a nap anymore. I thought I should double check with you first.
It can be disconcerting the first time you catch your child in a lie. So with this in mind, it’s important you first understand the motive for the lie before you jump into action (or reaction).
5 Reasons Why Kids Lie
To Get Out of Trouble
This one is the most obvious. Of course your kids don’t want to admit that they snuck a cookie out of the pantry when you weren’t looking. Especially after you explicitly asked them not to. Kids don’t want you to know that the reason for their bad grade on their last test is because they didn’t study. Instead they might insist that their teacher didn’t teach them the concepts. The list goes on: “My friends made me do it!” and “I don’t even know how that bottle of alcohol got here!” Kids will do anything to avoid the perceived wrath of their parents. Parents also want to believe their children, often because the alternative can be difficult to swallow.
To Get Someone into Trouble
I admit I see this one a lot in the school system. When kids don’t get along, sometimes they will lie in wait for an opportunity to tattle on each other. When that opportunity doesn’t present itself easily, they may lie or exaggerate a mundane situation to try to get someone else into trouble. It may sound sinister, but it probably has more to do with your child’s pursuit of justice than it does with their moral compass. When they see the kid who just made fun of their new backpack getting in trouble, there is a part of them that feels vindicated because their sense of justice has been satisfied.
They Saw it On TV
My son is notorious for this. Every once in awhile, when someone asks him about his weekend, he’ll relay the detailed plot of a recent television show as if it happened in his own life. When they ask me about it, I often won’t know where he even came up with such an idea. Weeks later I happen to catch the scene on a Daniel Tiger episode and it all makes sense. Kids have pretty incredible imaginations, and sometimes it can blur the line between fact and fiction.
They Love to Tell Stories
My son is a natural storyteller. Sometimes, the more outrageous the better. I remember my dayhome telling me all about how C told her how he went fishing with his grandpa, and they caught a large fish, and how much fun he had, and how he couldn’t wait to go again! In reality his grandpa was simply talking to him about what they would do over the summer a few days before. Apparently he was so excited about it he couldn’t wait to make it a reality!
This is another intriguing prospect that is just as true for kids as it is for adults. Many of us have no idea the prevalence and impact of false memories on our own lives. While we don’t want to admit that we can’t actually recall events exactly how they happened, in fact many of us create false memories to fill in the gaps on a regular basis. So it is possible that when your child is retelling an event, and the details don’t quite add up, that each of your interpretations have been filtered first through your own life experiences.
Wondering how to react when your child is caught in a lie? For practical tips for how to respond read the next post in this series here.
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