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The child lies: what truth is hidden behind the child’s lie?

06.05.2019 Author: psiholog pavel horoshutin

Children like fantasizing; making their stories in bright colours, and tend to make unrealistic stories up. Definitely, lie can be a sort of joy and entertainment for a child, however, more often it indicates deep psychological problems. It is a signal which should not be ignored by parents. 

If not to cultivate honesty in your child, he will be communicating with people according to the idea “it’s easier to lie” in his adulthood. Absence of friends, unhealthy relations with a spouse, failed career – these are the results of a bad habit to build communication and relationships on a lie. So, why is the child lying? What to pay attention to, in order not to bring up an inveterate liar?   

Contents:

Types of a child’s lie

how to wean a child from lying

The lie is a deliberate statement which doesn’t correspond with the truth. It is a release of disinformation with an intention of getting some benefits. [1]

«My son is 7 years old. He has always loved to “make up” different stories. And, although earlier his stories were more like fantasies, now they can be called a serious lie. My child started to lie frequently, any time he has an opportunity. I have started to consider his behavior seriously after the recent situation. I woke him up to get ready for school. Few minutes later my son started crying and begging not to go to school. I was frightened at first – what had happened? He told me that a teacher slapped his hands when he didn’t “manage” to write in a copybook well. That day we stayed at home, later we took a sick leave. I was going to go to school later to discuss the inappropriate teacher’s attitude. While we stayed at home together, I started discussing this situation again, and he confessed lying. I was upset, didn’t know how react and what to do. His lie could have had serious consequences»

— Anastasia, mother of 7-years old Sasha 

Psychologists and educators strictly divide concepts of a “child’s lie” and a “child’s fantasy”. It is considered that stories made up by under-eight years olds are the source of their healthy psychological development. But, by eight, a child can clearly understand that it’s bad to tell a lie.   

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There are quite a few classifications of a lie – by methods of achievement of desirable, by exact aims of a lie, by damage caused to those around. However, any lie can be classified as passive or active. [2]

types of children's lies

Passive lie

If a child refuses to tell about something he knows really well – it is a passive lie. That’s the way he protects himself or his best friend, for example. It may seem to a child, that he doesn’t really lie, because he doesn’t make up any stories.  

Hiding the truth can be absolute or partial. In both cases – it is a lie, too. 

Active lie 

When the truth is deformed beyond recognition, and the story is presented to a dialog partner as verity, it is an active lie. A child can make up the craziest stories and skillfully juggle with facts, if it allows him to reach some specific goal. 

There are two options. The kid can “forget” to tell some specific parts of the story, which would save him from parents’ disapproval. Another one – the kid wants to put a positive spin on himself in front of his friends, thus adds some unrealistic facts to a real event. 

Why is the child lying?

Before you blame the child for dishonesty, it’s better to analyze reasons behind this behavior. The lie often indicates not moral, but psychological problems of a child.  

So, why is the child lying? 

  1. He is afraid of punishment. 
  2. That’s his way of building self-confidence. 
  3. It is his reaction on parental prohibition. 
  4. He sets personal boundaries or expresses an objection. 
  5. He tries to attract someone’s attention. 

Depending on the age, these reasons can be expressed differently.

Age peculiarities of a child’s lie

The lie is an extremely difficult intellectual process. In order to lie “correctly”, you need to evaluate all the risks, make up true-to-life story, keep calm. People are not born with an ability to lie. This skill is developed through the years, becoming a habit.  

Psychologists have made an interesting research among children of different age groups. They were asked only one question: is it good or bad to tell lies? 92 % of five-year olds answered that telling lies – is always bad. The results among 10-12 years old children were different – only 28 % of them said that the lie is a serious misbehavior. [1]

Let’s have a more precise look at psychological peculiarities of a lie in each age group. 

Children under 3 

Psychologists believe that children under 3 years old just can’t tell lies. First of all, they don’t understand what a lie is, yet, and how does it “work”. Secondly, small children have nothing to hide, as their connection with parents is still strong. At this age they fantasize a lot, they substitute the fantasy for the reality. Moreover, children themselves don’t understand, what is the truth, and what is their fantasy. [3]  

3-4 year-olds  

According to a psychologist P. Akman, at the age of 3-4 years a child can lie deliberately. [1] it is one of the first childhood explorations: it turns out that you can not only tell the truth, but also hide it. The first lie – is not a real lie. The child doesn’t want to gain some benefits. He just tells what he would like to see in the reality.   

5-6 year-olds 

For children at 5-6 years, lie – is a pure social experiment. They “try” boundaries of what’s allowed in their family and sometimes test their parents to the limit. The child tries to understand, what the lie is, is it really as bad as mom and dad tell him. It is at 5-6 years that children often lie to their parents to get away with their misbehavior.  

7-8 year-olds

At 8 years, a child lies rather consciously, because he clearly understands the difference between the lie and the fantasy. 

Children, who have just started school, often lie to bolster self-esteem in the new society and to gain respect among their counterparts. Also, a child lies when he realizes that there is no other way to get what he desires from his parents.  

9-11 year-olds 

The child at the age of 9-11 lies, mainly, to raise his profile among counterparts and to find excuses in front of the adults. Most commonly, it is “harmless” bragging to classmates and suppression of some situations or actions to parents.  

However, when the lie becomes almost the only way of communication with the outside world – it is a cry for help, much more expressive than any words. Often children lie to their parents to attract attention. Constant lie, which covers serious misbehavior of a child, is a pause for thought – is there everything all right in the family? It usually happens with children whose parents are at the edge of a divorce. Tense relationships in a family, first of all, take toll on the youngest members – the child often lies, misbehaves, doesn’t study well, even steals.   

What should you do, if a 10-years old child, or older, lies? It’s is important for parents to “have a finger on the pulse”. In some cases, the child’s lie can make life more difficult for them, as well as for a child himself, because it has more serious nature in its core. 

If prohibitions and explanations don’t help any more, a child can be offered the 7Spsy behavior modification course. Changing the behavioral pattern, a child can realize himself, how useful and pleasant it is to tell the truth.  

Children above 12 

By 12 years old, a child doesn’t consider a lie as a pure evil. Becoming more flexible, he clearly realizes, that in some situations deception can be very useful – it helps to escape serious problems or to attract people’s attention. An early puberty is often accompanied by the child’s constant lie. Reasons for lying are mostly connected with parents’ strictness, their overprotectiveness and multiple prohibitions. The lie is the way of a child to widen the borders set by adults.   

How to wean a child from lying?

if the child is lying

The main problem is that the habit to lie, gained in the early childhood and puberty, just becomes stronger through the years. That is why it’s so important to pay attention to it as early as possible. 

Having figured out the reasons of such behavior, you need to have a heart to heart talk with your child.  

Inbreeding honesty is, first of all, trust-based relations with mutual respect in its core. It can’t do without personal example, because children of any age copy adults’ behavior. It is no surprise, that a child will lie, if his parents do it all the time at the drop of a hat, don’t keep their promises.  

American psychologist E. Fromm in his book advises parents, who have already caught a child in a lie, to say the following: “Tell me how it happened. Just don’t hide anything from me, because I’m not going to punish you, even if you are guilty in something. I’ll try to explain, why you did a bad thing.” [5]  

In order to solve this problem, you need to change the attitude to parenting as well. According to psychologists, the child won’t lie, if: 

  • he can be not afraid of parents’ anger which follows his faults; 
  • he knows, that even if he is punished, the punishment will be justified; 
  • he knows, that parents won’t set insulting interrogations; 
  • he is sure, that parents won’t pin bitter “labels” on him (“you are a big fat liar”, “you lie all the time”, “you’re one-of-a-kind liar”…); 
  • he is sure, that, no matter what the situation is, his parents will help, either with actions or an advice; 
  • he clearly understands, that the lie or even the minor under-reporting can have huge and serious consequences. [4] 

What should you do, if your child is constantly lying?

«My son is 10. He is sociable, into sports, he has many friends. The last year was very difficult for all our family, because he started telling lies at every given opportunity. It has all stated with pages in his report card glued together, and notebook pages torn away, to hide bad marks. Teachers started complaining over his awful behavior at school. To hide some misbehavior, my son tells convincing versions of what happened with a totally calm face. Then he confesses and he is sorry, but it all happens again in a few days. The final straw was when a small sum of money had disappeared from the house, and he brought a new toy soon. He answered my questions, saying he had exchanged with a friend. I believed him, but then the truth came out – my son had taken the money. We had a serious conversation, with mutual crying, promises that it won’t happen again. But nothing has changed. I don’t understand what he’s thinking about and why he’s constantly lying, how he could have stolen from us on the first place. The limit of forgiveness has already reached the ceiling. I don’t know how to wean my child from lying, to my mind, it is unacceptable at 10 years old. I can’t accept what he’s doing – horrible behavior and studying, stealing. What will come next? »

— Elena, mother of 10-years old Vlad 

When a child is constantly lying, and the lie becomes some kind of his personal communication style, it’s time to take serious measures. In some cases, the necessity to wean a child from lying is a task beyond parents’ strength. If you can’t explain to a child why it is important for people to be honest, a psychologist will help you. To tell the truth and be sincere – these are healthy habits, which can be build in the process of changing the behavior model. This is what 7Spsy behavior modification technique is oriented to.  

We will teach you to be honest and truthful

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It is the patented method of behavior psychology, based on the theories of famous psychologists I.P.Pavlov, B.F.Skinner, A.A.Ukhtomsky and others. The program, depending on the depth of the problem, is intended to last from 2 to 6 weeks. Child will work individually with the materials of the course and will be able to change the pathological behavior model which causes troubles in communication with peers, leads to arguments with parents and problems with academic performance. The course can help the child change negative mind sets to positive – this will become a solid basis of trustworthy, open relationships with family and with society.   

The course can be done at any time comfortable for the child, without leaving the house. The work with psychologist is done remotely, on a totally non-disclosure basis. The child and his parents get multifaceted assistance of specialists – via cell phone and e-mail, in the on-line chats.

References:

  1. «Pochemu deti lgut», 1989, P. Ekman
  2. «Lozh v sisteme socialno-psihologicheskoj adaptacii» (zhurnal «Voprosy psihologii», 2000. — №4), A. K. Akimenko
  3. «Возрастные особенности детской лжи», С. А. Боровиков (https://cyberleninka.ru/article/v/vozrastnye-osobennosti-detskoy-lzhi)
  4. «Vozrastnye osobennosti detskoj lzhi», S. A. Borovikov (https://cyberleninka.ru/article/v/roditelskoe-sobranie-3-klass-tema-detskaya-lozh-sposoby-profilaktiki)
  5. «Azbuka dlya roditelej. Kak dogovoritsya s rebenkom v lyuboj situacii», 2017, A. Fromm