At some stage, all parents will hear their children telling stories that might be called “lies”. Some will be realistic, while others will clearly be figments of their imagination. But are they all really lies? It depends. Children of different ages have different perceptions of reality, which evolve as they grow.
For example, for preschool children telling little fibs (even when the evidence clearly contradicts them) is a way of feeling a form of independence from their parents. In addition, at that age they still don’t have a firm grasp on the boundaries between fantasy and reality. The same is true of their perception of time.
Unlike adults, young children often aren’t consciously and deliberately trying to deceive people when they tell a lie. Fibbing is actually an important part of the cognitive development of children and it is a sign of intelligence and independence.
When kids start primary school, they will start to want more freedom and they may tell lies intentionally. There can be a number of reasons for this: one of the most common is because they are seeking approval from their parents and trying to portray themselves in a better light. They might also tell lies to give them more scope to do what they want, including things that adults don’t let them do.
What should you do?
Children aged 3 and under aren’t capable of realizing that they’ve said something wrong, so there’s no point telling them off or making them admit that they’ve told a lie. Rather than seeking to identify the guilty party, it’s best to say something along the lines of “Oh look: someone’s eaten the last biscuit. I wonder who it was!” Don’t worry if they come up with wild and wonderful stories and talk about things such as imaginary friends. It’s simply a way for children to learn new concepts.
With children aged 6 and over, the first thing to do is try to work out the reasons behind the lie by asking yourself: “Why did they lie to me?” It will help you to find out about your children’s hopes, desires and worries, then reach a compromise that leaves everyone satisfied.
In the pre-teen years, you will find yourself hearing more and more lies: this is perfectly normal. Tell your children that you are not pleased that they’ve lied to you and teach them that honesty is the cornerstone of every healthy relationship. Most importantly, set a good example.