Most often it is important to understand that young children are likely to use lies or dishonesty as a naïve approach to the world, as they lack sophistication cognitively and are still learning to process and organize information. Lying in young children is quite common, and does not necessarily mean that the child will grow up to be deceitful, but will rather outgrow the tendency to lie as more maturation continues. In understanding reasons as to why young children lie, the most common motivations are to avoid consequences or to not disappoint adults with their actions. The use of escape or avoidance of consequences is likely the most common reason for lying, as the child is learning at a higher level that behaviors have consequences, that can be negative in nature. As they begin to be taught morals and lessons of right from wrong, the potential for lying increases.
In order to effectively manage an interaction in which a parent or caregiver becomes aware their child is lying, the use of positive communication strategies should be utilized rather then emotional reactions. It is important for the parents and caregivers to practice going to “SLO CAMP,” when approaching the child in this situation
S- Separate the child from the behavior. Assisting the child in understanding that you may disapprove of their behavior, but you do not love them any less. Avoid using labels about your child, such as calling them a “liar” or “dishonest.” Speak to the behavior as being dishonest, not generalizing these terms to the child.
L- Lead by modeling and example. Attempt to avoid using lies, even little white lies when engaging in your life. Children are big proponents of using learned and observed behaviors, so if you use lies, your child is likely to model them, as it demonstrates that lying is “okay”
O- Opportunity. Use the lying behavior as a chance to understand why the child lied. Exploring reasons as to why the child lied to you and cannot be honest is an important piece of information. By validating feelings, and identifying that you understand that the child lied due to fear can be helpful in increasing opening the lines of communication and improving the child’s confidence in you in the future.
C- Remain Calm. Parents and caregivers typical first reaction is to become upset and frustrated when the child lies. The child is likely lying in order to avoid consequence and upsetting you, so when you approach in an emotional way, it is reinforcing as to why the child wants to avoid being honest. You are still able to express your feelings about the child’s behaviors, do so in a calm and goal-oriented way.
A- Avoid setting the child up to lie. Some parents will often ask their child questions that they already know the answer to in order catch the child in position to make choice between truth and lie. When the parents or caregivers already know the answer, the tone of voice and approach is likely setting up the child to wants to avoid any further involvement, thus increasing the chances of lying. Use questions that allow the child to provide answers and focus on problem solving rather than punishment and shaming.
M- Mistakes are teaching moments. Using poor choices to help make better choices is the process of learning. Using a problem solving approach is going to be a more effective way in managing your child’s behaviors that become angry and frustrated. In that teachable moment, use active problem solving skills to help your child process their choices, and identify better ways to handle the situation next time.
P-Praise! When you child does admit a negative behavior or a poor choice, to you acknowledge and praise their honesty. While it does not take away from the negative action that has occurred, identifying the positive aspect to their approach is a good way to boost this decision for the future.
If you are able to stop, and take yourself to “SLO CAMP,” when faced with lying in young children, they are likely to begin to alter their behaviors with time. Remind yourself that behavior change is a process, and this behavior will not go away overnight. However, by implementing positive skills, the relationship with your child will begin to improve. If the lying continues to become a chronic issue and is being met with limited results, seek out professional assistance and guidance.