Part 2: Six Types of Lies & What to Do
So, you’ve caught your child lying. Maybe it was about homework, or maybe it was about who spilled the juice. Regardless, it can be a worrisome revelation. In last week’s blog, the developmental stages of lying were discussed to help better understand how children come to lie. Now it’s time to talk about the lies themselves - specifically, six different types of lies.
Types of Lies:
Testing out a new behavior. Lying is a novel idea, which makes most kids want to try it. They wonder, “What does it get me out of? What does it get me?” This type of lie may also be a way to gain attention. It may be best to ignore this type of lie rather than harshly pointing it out. For these low-degree lies that don’t hurt anyone but aren’t good behaviors, ignoring and redirecting to something that you know is more factual may be a better option.
The cover-up. When your child insists that they “didn’t do it,” they may understand something is wrong and are trying to cover their tracks. Their goal is to avoid punishment. Lies told to escape discipline can put you in a difficult position. The trick is to find a balance between permissive and punitive, as being too harsh may lead kids to telling more lies while leniency won’t change the behavior.
The lazy lie. Telling you what you want to hear may be the easiest path for kids sometimes. For example, a kid might say, "No, I don't have any homework left" or "Yes, I brushed my teeth.” These lies may seem relatively harmless but should still be addressed, or kids may think honesty doesn't matter. If you catch your child fibbing, let them know that it's not okay by explaining how important it is to be honest, and remind them of the repercussions of lying. If the lie was about homework, for instance, maybe now your child will have to show you their completed assignments every evening. If it’s about dental hygiene, perhaps the idea of a routine breath-check before heading to school will motivate change.
The white lie. Children can pick up on the “white lie” concept early in life. Of course, it's important that kids learn empathy and avoid hurting others. But you also need to be sure that your kiddo understands the difference between a well-intended distortion of the truth — saying “I love your jacket”— vs. telling a lie that could hurt someone. Be especially watchful for fibs told just to be nice. Children often get the message that being nice is mandatory, even if it means being dishonest about their feelings. In an effort to be liked, kids may bottle up their true feelings. In order for them to develop self-esteem and emotional strength, they must learn to value their own responses, opinions, and confidence in their right to express them.
The cry for help. Your child may lie because they’re overwhelmed. Or they may desperately fear disappointing you. If you suspect that they’re lying for one of these reasons, talk with them and encourage them to talk about their worries. You may need to consider lowering your expectations so they can achieve success in smaller, more manageable steps, which will boost their self-confidence. Rather than pushing for top scores in all of their school subjects, for instance, pick one (like math) and work on that first. Reassure your kiddo, too, that you'll always love them, no matter what they accomplish or don’t accomplish.
Serious lies. If something is more serious, like teens lying about where they’ve been, parents might consider putting a consequence into place. Kids should be clear that there will be repercussions for this kind of lie so that it’s not a surprise. Like all consequences, it should be something short-lived, not outrageous, which gives the kiddo a chance to get back to practicing better behavior. Consequences to consider include the loss of a cellphone for a day or having to do a chore. Also, depending on the severity of the lie, there also has to be a component of addressing what the kid was lying about. If a child lies about homework all week, then the consequence may be sitting down and doing all of the homework.
It can be scary when a child starts to lie, but the most important thing to remember is that honesty can be taught and encouraged. Look for Part 3 of this blog next week to get a few helpful tips about teaching your kids about honesty.