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Dealing with lying habit in children

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Children start to lie from an early age. They fake cries to get attention, pretend to be injured to avoid going to bed and tell you they are not hungry just so they can continue playing. There are different reasons children lie, co-founder MumsAloud, Tina Ok said. Before a lie, there is usually some kind of “construction” going on in the mind to justify the reason they lie.

Lying is human nature and comes as a natural survival instinct. Many children, just like adults, do it to protect themselves, others, or to hurt others for doing something they perceive as bad and mostly to make themselves feel good.

According to the parenting enthusiast, most kids do it to protect and make themselves feel good. It’s a natural survival instinct for them. Children below the age of four cannot tell the difference between truth and lie because a lot of times they tell stories from how they have imagined it in their head. “My child will tell you how he went to the zoo and walked with lions and polar bears. He would tell it so convincingly you begin to wonder. We call these kind of ‘liars’ – big dreamers or say they have a big imagination – but ultimately these ‘lies’ or big imagination make them feel good.

“The other type of lying common with children, especially above the age of four, is the lie to protect themselves. Children lie to avoid punishment. When they keep getting punished for always telling the truth, they experiment with a lie and see if they get away with it and most times they do, so they continue. In my opinion, apart from those who have made a habit of lying over time, most children lie because they don’t want to get into trouble and they have no other way of dealing with a problem. It’s almost like a faulty survival skill for children.”

Tina added that this instinct could come to them naturally, when they have tested the truth and didn’t get a result that favours them, so they play around with the opposite. They can also pick this cue by watching the adults around them. If these adults get away with things they lie about, then they begin to test it too.

While it would be hard to point at certain things and conclude the child is lying, there are a few indicators you can pick upon at first, until the child perfects the art. “For my kids, I know they are lying when they can’t look me straight in the eye or when the time between the questions I asked and their answer is taking too long. Or when they stay far away from me while asking them a question, this shows an unwillingness to be open. It is important for parents to identify the unusual behavioural pattern in their child when they sense the child is lying.

“As a parent, it can be very difficult but don’t take your child’s lying personally or pass judgment on them. Most times it is because there’s something else going on with them. The important thing to do is to address the behaviour behind the lie. If you take the lying personally by being angry, judgmental or you yell at your child and say something like, ‘how dare you lie to me’, unfortunately, that’s all you’re going to be able to address. You’re not going to be able to deal with the real issue of your child or the reason behind the lie. The bottom line is that your anger and frustration about the lie is not going to help your child change his behaviour.

“It will only drive them further away and make them find a better lying skill to keep you in the dark. This can go on for years till they get their own home where it will become even more difficult to stop. That’s why we have many adult liars. Severe punishment of childhood lying may only increase lying behaviour as kids will generally try to avoid severe punishments,” she said.

To instill honesty, parents need to practice what they teach. If children observe their parents telling “white lies” or huge false tales to other children or adults, they may become confused as to when they should or not lie. Also, if they see adults who are successful as a result of lying, they may learn that lying is a good thing, despite any consequences that parents may place on them. Stop being judgmental. Keep your doors open and create an environment where your child can safely come to you without you attacking them. Don’t accidentally breed a liar.


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