Everyone lies. But the way young children lie is different from
the way adults lie.
Three- and 4-year-olds "live by a simple rule: Good people do good
things," says Lawrence Kutner, Ph.D., author of Parent &
Child. "By lying, [a preschooler] is, in essence, protecting
his ability to be loved by you."
Older children know what a lie is but don't consider its
consequences. "[Children are] aware of the probable unpleasant
consequences of [what they did] and are simply protecting
themselves," says Kutner.
What should you do if you suspect your child is
* Give children alternatives to lying. For example, let
them know that breaking a vase accidently won't be treated the same
as breaking it on purpose. Help them understand why lies aren't
necessary or helpful.
* Talk calmly. Focus on the child's action-not the lie or
the child. Don't ask accusatory questions and don't press for a
confession. Just present the facts as you understand them. For
children up to the age of 5, parents should just say, "I saw you do
it, and that isn't nice." Then suggest an action that would've been
* Avoid harsh punishment. "[Harsh punishment] creates a
fear of punishment, rather than an internalized belief in moral
behavior," says psychologist Paul Ekman (Why Kids Lie). Use a story
such as The Boy Who Cried Wolf to help younger children realize the
damage lying does. Use object lessons from the news for older
children. Or talk about what the Bible says about lying (Proverbs 19:22).
* Set an example. Admit your mistakes. When children see
you handle mistakes, they'll be more able to cope with problems.
And avoid telling lies yourself.
Children as young as 4 can tell deliberate lies to get out of
trouble, according to researchers. But the fear of parents'
disapproval discourages them from lying.
Ninety-two percent of 5-year-olds thought it was always wrong to
tell a fib. But by the age of 11, only 28 percent said they "never
told a lie," according to research.