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Why does a child lie?

It is often observed that children cook up imaginary stories or defend themselves by telling unreal things. They mainly tell a lie to cover something up so they don’t get into trouble. Children can learn to tell lies usually around three years of age. This is when they start to realize that you aren’t a mind reader, so they can say things that aren’t true without you always knowing. Children sometimes lie to get attention or make themselves sound right. They don’t understand reality is fixed. Until about age seven or eight, they often see a blurry line between reality and fantasy and don’t know that reality is permanently fixed. They think wishful thinking works. They believe in superheroes, unicorns, and their ability to change the facts. So when they say they didn’t do it, what they mean is that they wish they didn’t do it and are trying to make that true.

Encourage children to tell the truth using the following finesse :

  • Have open conversations with your child about a lie and a truth. For instance, ‘How would you feel if I lie to you?’ or ‘What happens when you lie to your mom?’

  • Guide your child to avoid situations where he/she needs to cover themselves with a lie. For instance, if you ask your child if they break the glass, your child might feel tempted to lie. To avoid this situation you could just say, ‘There’s an accident with the glass. I am sure it was not done intentionally. Let’s clean it up together.’

  • Appreciate your child for owning up to their mistakes. For instance, ‘I’m so glad you told me the truth and didn’t hide this episode from me. Let’s work together to sort out things’.

  • Let your child admire you for the virtue of honesty. Be a role model for imparting reality. For example, ‘I made a blunder in a project that was assigned to me at work today. I informed my authorities and asked for an apology. I could rectify and fix it.’

Once children are old enough to understand the difference between true and not true, it’s good to encourage and support them in telling the truth. You can do this by emphasizing the importance of honesty in your family and helping children understand the virtue of honesty.


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