First of all, don't label it "Lying." Until a child is between the ages of 7-9, their brains are not developed to the point that they can differentiate between "a lie" and "the truth" in the same way an adult does.
Next, work through your totally unfounded fear: "My child is becoming a pathological liar!" (this is right up there with the fear that they'll starve if they don't eat their dinner tonight). Most often, they're exhibiting totally age-appropriate behavior, and your reaction to what seems like a lie can be much more problematic than the lie itself. So, RELAX!
Third, try to figure out what's behind the lie. That will guide you as to how to handle it:
"Magical thinking" or Fantasy - This is an important developmental stage for pre-schoolers. Don't step on it by forcing them back to "reality." Join in their fantasy, encourage it ("You can't brush your teeth because the tiger broke your leg? Oh my Gosh! I'd better carry you to the bathroom. We'll brush your teeth and then get a cast for your leg!"). Or, when you hear your child recount their summer excitement (that never actually happened): "You really wish you rode a horse over the summer. Maybe we can find some horses to ride this summer."
Lying to Avoid Blame or Punishment - If you suspect that this is what's behind your child's lie, the first question to ask yourself is "Why does my child feel the need to lie? Am I getting angry too easily or punishing too harshly?"
Compulsive Lying - Lying can become purposeful, and then habitual. The cause is almost always a hurt and angry child who has not been allowed to make mistakes, and who fears his parents' reactions. If your child is lying compulsively, your family needs the help of a professional.
The best way to prevent or stop your child from lying is to MAKE IT SAFE TO TELL THE TRUTH IN YOUR HOME!
Promise your children that you won't get angry when they make a mistake. Calmly walking them through facing the consequences of their actions will ALWAYS be more effective than yelling or lecturing. Show acceptance and unconditional love when your child tells the truth.
MODELING! Are you telling little lies here and there that your children witness? Are you asking your child to lie for you ("Tell the salesman I'm not home.")?
Don't expect your child to lie or label him/her a liar. S/he will start to live up to that expectation/role.
Talk about truthfulness in general (not when it relates to your child). Use current events and the experiences of others to demonstrate how the truth always comes out in the end or how people who are honest are respected. Talk about how much easier it is to tell the truth and demonstrate the problems faced by those who don't (eg, The Boy Who Cried Wolf).
If it is obvious that your child did something, don't set them up to lie with questions ("Did you break that?"). Simply confront them, without anger ("That was a very expensive vase. How are you going to make up for breaking it?").
The bottom line is this: Don't punish lying; instead, encourage honesty and imagination.*
*Peace Parenting Project recommends eliminating punishment completely. Please contact us if you would like to explore the many alternatives to punishment.
About Lisa Bilgen, M.A.
Certified Parent Educator
President, Peace Parenting Project
Lisa created Peace Parenting Project with the lofty goal of creating a generation of emotionally intelligent, heart-centered children, for whom peaceful conflict resolution is second nature.
Lisa co-founded and led Attachment Parenting International's Austin Northwest Chapter, providing education and support to parents committed to a healthy, heart-centered approach to raising children peacefully.
Lisa worked with parents of newborn infants at Family Connections in Austin, Texas, a non-profit organization dedicated to proactive parenting for at-risk family systems. At Family Connections, Lisa trained parents of challenging circumstances in applying methods proven to reduce behaviors considered violent toward children, replacing these behaviors with simple and effective peace parenting techniques. Lisa started her career in Peace Education as a cross-cultural trainer, helping adults understand how cultural beliefs play a role in everything from cultural adjustment processes to conflict resolution. Later, as the Director of Intercultural Programs at Boston University's Center for International Health, Lisa helped professionals from a vast array of cultures work together as a team.
Through seminars, workshops and individual & family coaching, Lisa now helps parents create peaceful, loving relationships with their children and a home environment in which children are encouraged to become their truest self.
Lisa's services are available in English and Spanish.
John LoRe, PhD, CAS
Co-founder, Peace Parenting Project
Dr. LoRe has worked in the mental health field for the past 28 years. He is a Licensed HeartMath® Provider and has a degree in Ayurvedic Medicine. He is currently writing his first book, offering a new approach to Psychospiritual Therapy.
Dr. LoRe has worked with adolescents and middle school children, both in private practice and in the school system, for over 24 years. He works extensively with individuals, couples and families. Dr. LoRe specializes in ADHD (in children and adults), Anxiety, Depression, Parenting Together, Conscious and High Conflict Divorce and Personal Transformation.
Dr. LoRe started Peace Parenting Project in response to the need for a new paradigm in parenting, one in which a Heart-Centered approach to raising children results in close, loving relationships between parents, and parents and children.