Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Liar, Liar - Dealing with Dishonesty

Catching a child lying can be upsetting for many parents, but there is a silver lining: lying can be a sign of healthy mental development! According to author Michelle Anthony, author of Little Girls Can Be Mean, actual lies—not the fantasies very young children invent—tend to accompany kids' development of conversational skills. As they learn about the way their words impact others, they begin to experiment. That's why many parents and caregivers may observe that youngsters start spinning yarns around the ages of seven and eight years old. Generally, children at this age don't lie with malicious intent; more likely they're trying to increase self-esteem (e.g. claiming they won a competition), avoid punishment, or get something they want.

Rather than fixating on the lie and the downsides of dishonesty, Anthony recommends that adults focus on the benefits that come along with being truthful. Explain to your child that the reward for trustworthiness is autonomy; if you can rely on her to do what she says she will do, you're happy to check up on her less and allow her more freedom. If, on the other hand, she gives you reason to believe that she is not, say, brushing her teeth before bed each night, you will have to supervise her night-time routine.

Since many lies come from kids' desire to avoid making parents angry, here are a few guidelines to remember when responding to dishonesty:
  • Respond calmly to bad news. (If you feel yourself getting angry, delay the conversation until you've calmed down.) If your child confesses that he received detention, first commend him for telling you the truth. An initial response of anger will encourage your child to cover up the truth in the future. 
  • When it comes to tricky truths, like asking a child who struggles with spelling how his test went, lighten the mood before delving into the tough stuff. If you sense things didn't go well, invite your child to tell you a fib about the results of the test first, then to tell you the truth. This shows your child that you are sympathetic, and it also helps emphasize the difference between truth and falsehoods. 
  • When you do catch your child in a lie, think carefully about her motivation for lying to you. Invite her to explain why she didn't tell you the truth, too. You may learn a lot about each other and lay groundwork for more truthful exchanges in the future. Honest!

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