How can I get my 6 year-old son to quit lying?
Parents naturally get angry when their children lie. It’s understandable to worry about your child having a character defect or creating trust issues with others.
First of all, be careful not to encourage lying. Some parents ask their children questions to which they already know the answer. A parent of a child who clearly took scissors without permission might be tempted to ask a question like, “did you take the scissors without permission?” Instead, it’s more helpful to simply say something such as, “please don’t take the scissors without first asking permission.”
This may seem like a small thing, but setting up our children with a scenario where we already know the answer to the question puts them in a frustrating bind. We often create situations where children receive double punishments for something that could have been handled more directly.
Additionally, some parents discourage their children from telling the truth when they won’t accept a child’s honest answer. For example, a child may yell, “I hate my teacher.”
If the parent responds with a comment such as, “You don’t really hate your teacher”, the child has to decide if they’ll stay with their authentic feeling or change it to please the parent.
Consider validating the child’s honest and authentic expression by responding with, “your teacher really bothers you.” This also presents a great opportunity to talk about the child’s concerns.
Children tell lies for many reasons. Preschool-age children begin to notice the difference between reality and fantasy. Older children often learn they can distort reality by stretching the truth.
For example, a child might brag that they are the smartest kid in their class. Instead of treating this as a lie, it’s helpful to take the child’s age and intentions into consideration. It might be more helpful to say something like, “You love to learn!” “I can tell you want to know everything!”
As children grow up, we often become less tolerant of lying and, as a result, struggle to know how to respond. The most important advice I can offer is to make sure we combine directness with kindness when dealing with children’s lies.
For example, if your son claims he turned in his homework, but you discover it in his room the following day, it would be tempting to punish him for not only failing to turn it in, but also lying about it.
Instead, you could respond by revealing the unpleasant truth that you discovered his homework in his room even though he claimed it was already turned in. You can acknowledge that his homework will be overdue now and let him face the consequences of his poor choices.
Matter-of-fact responses that respect the consequences of lying combined with seeking to understand why he needed to lie allows him to feel the weight of his situation.
It’s likely that all children will misrepresent the truth at some point in their development. We help them the most when we help them face the truth with kindness and respect.
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
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