There are several reasons why children tell lies. Child psychologists at the Sandton Psychology Centre in Johannesburg say that when deliberating children and lies it becomes necessary to separate when it is problematic and when it is not. Everybody lies sometimes (even adults) and practically all parents will attest that children lie, perhaps not how adults understand a lie, but nonetheless, by stretching the truth, hiding facts, embellishing stories and denying the obvious. Children under 5 years of age will, and do have difficulty differentiating between reality and fantasy. Time and again children’s fantasy and imaginative worlds can offer more satisfaction than reality does. In addition, their wishes and reality are the same thing. Although they may know that lying is not a good thing to do they do not have self-awareness that they’re doing something wrong. Children aren’t born with a set of value systems; they have to be taught the difference between right and wrong behaviour.
The major reasons children lie include the following:
Watch out for any underlying difficulties such as ADD/ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder or Conduct Disorder. These disorders can be very serious and would have to be treated accordingly. Children with ADD/ADHD for example, do tend to be impulsive and as such may tell lies impulsively, that is without thinking about the consequences.
Children who lie can be fearful or scared of getting into trouble. Sometimes they may feel that the consequences of being truthful results in much punishment, lectures, discipline or shouting from parents. It is therefore ‘better’ telling lies and avoiding all of that.
Children may lie to not take responsibility for their behaviour, to cover up areas they are struggling with (for example, lying about schoolwork and homework may be a way to cover some underlying difficulty), or hide painful feelings.
Adolescents may lie as a way to protect their privacy or to cover up embarrassment or feelings of inadequacy.
When dealing with children who lie it is best to determine and address the underlying causes of lying. If we condemn and label children as ‘liars’ we run the risk of getting into a pattern of negativity where the lies don’t subside or become habitual. As a parent, encourage the truth. Be willing to listen and refrain from shaming and punishing the child. Rather work together to find a solution to the problem.
If difficulties with lying continue contact a child psychologist at the Sandton Psychology Centre in Johannesburg. The psychologist will be able to determine if there are underlying causes to the lying and what is bothering the child on an emotional level. The child psychologist will work closely with the parents and caregivers to find a healthier way of communicating and dealing with the child’s painful feelings and inappropriate behaviour.