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When children tell lies

SAMAA | - Posted: Dec 20, 2017 | Last Updated: 4 years ago
Posted: Dec 20, 2017 | Last Updated: 4 years ago

By Gulrukh Tausif 

“Tell a lie once and all your truths become questionable” – Ivan Junius

Recently I was with a group of moms and our conversation turned to how easily children tell lies nowadays. One mother who is also a teacher, told us some shocking tales of lies that her students tell in class including the fake news of mother’s death to escape an exam.  Children also fake their parents’ signatures on forms and report cards and don’t hesitate to create stories and falsehoods to escape punishments. The truth is children lie most of the time but only if adults around them do not handle this situation promptly and intelligently.

From a very early age, children learn to use lies to find a way out of trouble and if unchecked, they can perfect this strategy as they grow older. No matter what age, gender or class they belong to, children lie for these main reasons:

  • Fear: Fear of teachers, parents and peers, fear of facing the reality and fear of facing the consequences of their mistakes and actions.
  • Manipulation: Children lie when they want to get their own way and they think they can get away with anything. This often happens with parents who are too busy to keep an eye on their children or are over trusting.
  • Inferiority complex: Some children lie when they lack self confidence and they want to appear richer, better or cooler to their classmates. In order to win peer approval, they lie and invent stories.
  • Rich imagination: Some younger children genuinely have very creative minds so they invent imaginary friends or situations in order to impress others. Watching too many cartoons and movies can also make them blur the line between truth and fantasy.
  • Inability to handle expectations: Older children sometimes lie about their class performance because they are unable to handle pressure exerted on them by parents. Most parents nowadays spend a fortune on their children’s school fess, tuitions and extracurricular activities. If things are not going well, guilt sometimes makes children lie about their achievements and progress.
  • Over strict home environment in which children are afraid to own up mistakes or confide in their parents. Children do not like to be yelled at, punished or scolded for every small mistake they make.
  • When parents are bad role models: Many parents unconsciously train their children to tell lies when they use their children to make excuses on their behalf. Parents might tell the children to say on phone that mom is sleeping when she is watching TV drama or tell an unwanted visitor that dad is not at home. Many parents lie about their children’s age to avoid paying fees at public places which makes the children feel that lying is not such a big deal.
  • During teen years, children want more money and freedom than most parents can give them. That’s why teens lie about where they are going, who they were with, their online activities etc. It is very important to have close and frank relationships with teens as they face lots of pressure from their peers, media and society at large.

During pre-school years (age up to 3-4 years), it is usually the tone of parents’ voice that determines whether a child will tell the truth or not when caught in a tricky situation. Ask a child sternly and angrily, “Did you break the glass?”, “Did you hit the baby?”, “Did you write on a wall?” and the chances are they will lie to protect themselves or to make sure parents are not angry with them because parents’ love and approval is most important for them.

From here onwards, children will take a cue from how you handle a situation. If you hit them or scold them for making such small mistakes like writing on the wall or breaking something at such a young age, they will lie and keep on telling lies because they feel the adults around them cannot handle the truth.

Parents and teachers also need to have realistic approach to children’s capabilities and avoid putting too much pressure on them. Children need a happy and disciplined environment to grow into strong and balanced young adults. If children know that they can discuss issues and problems with their parents in an atmosphere free of guilt, disapproval and anger, they will have no need to tell lies.

For young children, it is better for parents and teachers to give them room to help them come out of the hole they have dug for themselves. For example, if a child is caught lying, ask in a calm voice, “Are you sure this is how it happened, “I am not sure if I can believe this” or say things like “Sounds like a great story but I would appreciate the truth” and the chances are they will come clean. At least it will make clear to them that they have not gotten away with their lies.

It is also very important that children are made aware from a young age that it is wrong to tell lies. Make sure they understand that if they tell lies, nobody will be able to trust them in the future and this could endanger their relationship with teachers, friends and family members.

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