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writes, "How do we teach our children not to lie when we as adults lie as a part of daily life?"
Parents often are so concerned about their children lying. Strangely, adults themselves lie. Think about everything from the little white lie, to exaggerating, and the holiday myths we lie about. I don't think there was a time in my life that I believed giant bunnies snuck into my yard and mysteriously hid eggs. Walking home from school in first grade with my best friend posed a problem after she thought she saw Santa in the window of someone's house. I told her there was no such thing as Santa. Within minutes of arriving home her mother had called to speak to me and directly asked me to lie to my best friend about there really being a Santa. After all, she was the youngest in the family and the only girl so they were really holding on to every last bit of childhood innocence.

So how do we keep our children from lying when we as adults actively lie to our children and ask others to lie for us? Keep in mind that there are normal processes around lying. But there are also some things that do increase the likelihood of it happening even though we instill the 'Fear of God' in our kids to try and prevent it.

Children and people in general lie for some the following reasons:
- They feel trapped
- They fear punishment or rejection
- They think lying will make things easier for everyone
- They may have low self esteem and need to make themselves look better

Aside from that there is also a developmental process around lying or fabrication, particularly as they are developing their creative processes. I have parents regularly express concern over their child's perceived lying around fantasies. One family was very concerned about their child lying about having siblings when in fact they were an only child, another about how they "lived on a boat," another about fabricated actions of another child during play. This is all normal. They may be developing their creativity, fantasizing about what they wish were true or misperceived the behavior of another.

Here are some suggestions:

1) Avoid setting up questions to invite lying. Parents often will ask about something they know happened as if they were not aware. Did you eat that chocolate cake on the counter? The parent says to the child with the fork in hand and cake across their face. Instead, acknowledge the facts. "I notice you have been eating the cake." Focusing on solutions to the issue at hand rather than blame, accusatory statements or fear tactics.

2) Discuss the issue of honesty in the moment. "That doesn't sound truthful to me. Sometimes we don't tell the truth when we feel like we might get in trouble. Let's take a break and you can come to me when you're ready to share the truth with me." OR "Is there a reason you're feeling like you can't be honest right now?"

3) When stories sound like fantasies, allow them to be fantasies. "You have such a good imagination. Tell me another good story." Allow them to explore their story or to write about their story.

Preventative suggestions:

1) Help them understand that mistakes are opportunities to learn, not opportunities for parents to punish them. If they believe they are bad they will become more secretive, lie more and withdraw to cover up the mistakes.

2) Let them know they are unconditionally loved. Sometimes they lie because they don't want to disappoint their parents. Children and adults lie to protect themselves from punishment, judgment, criticism and emotional pain.

3) Show appreciation for honesty and owning up to mistakes.

4) Look for the element of truth. They may say, "I haven't eaten all day," as they lie about the cake they just shoveled in their mouth. Maybe they didn't eat a portion of their lunch or their bellies are feeling really empty. Focus on other questions about what is really going on for them.

Children can learn it is safe to tell the truth by learning that it is safe to talk about their fears and mistakes and to focus on opportunities and solutions.

Shannon Miles, MFT


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