Most of us think of children as innocent and pure. But, just like adults, they are capable of lying—which is normal since they still have to learn. Most of the time, they lie because this is their way of protecting themselves from the consequences of their actions. They want to escape from punishment or taking responsibility for whatever they have done. And it’s okay as long as they learn.
However, children who continuously lie can be problematic and alarming because they may become pathological or compulsive liars. This kind of lying aims to intentionally deceive people, often for some form of personal gain. Sometimes, pathological liars may lie for no clear reason. They just want to not tell the truth. As psychologist Dr. Michele Barton, director of Psychology Life Well, said, "A pathological liar is somebody who lies without effort, someone for whom telling a lie comes more naturally than telling the truth.”
It’s important that parents recognize when a child is intentionally lying and doesn’t show remorse about the consequences of their actions. While the causes of pathological lying are unknown, experts say that it may be a feature of several other conditions such as factitious disorder and personality disorders. It can also be a symptom of psychopathy, anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions.
Parents May Be the Reason Why
Experts say that there are several signs parents can catch pathological liars. For instance, their lies are believable and may have truthful elements; it continues for a long period of time and is not caused by some immediate pressure; the lies tend to present the person lying in a positive light, and most of all, if the lies have internal motivation.
Pathological liars often lack self-confidence. As a result, they lie to make themselves seem more impressive, special, or talented. This inflates their self-esteem and makes themselves look good in the eyes of others. Children’s desire for attention can also result in compulsive lying. This desire can grow when they are not seen. Sometimes, children create elaborate or fantastical stories that have no basis in truth just so they can talk with their parents or other people.
Another reason why children lie is that they have discovered a novel idea and are trying it out to see what happens. Matthew Rouse, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, said that they are curious about what happens if they lie in a situation or what their parents will do to them.
A 2019 survey shed further light on the concept of lying., showing that parents who are draconian in their approach and rigidly punish their children for any wrongdoing inadvertently force their offspring to become more proficient liars. Because kids are afraid of punishment or disappointing their parents, they use lying as a way to escape.
Another 2019 study conducted by researchers from the Nanyang Technological University found out that adults who reported being lied to more as children were more likely to report lying to their parents in their adulthood. According to Science Daily, an American website that aggregates press releases and publishes lightly edited press releases about science, the team asked 379 Singaporean young adults to complete four online questionnaires.
The contents of these questionnaires included asking participants to recall if their parents told them lies that related to eating; leaving and/or staying; children's misbehavior; and spending money. They were also asked to indicate how frequently as adults they lied to their parents. The last two questionnaires, meanwhile, aimed to measure their self-reported psychosocial maladjustment and tendency to behave selfishly and impulsively.
Lead author Assistant Professor Setoh Peipei from NTU Singapore's School of Social Sciences said that the dishonesty of parents may eventually erode trust and promote dishonesty in children. "Our research suggests that parenting by lying is a practice that has negative consequences for children when they grow up. Parents should be aware of these potential downstream implications and consider alternatives to lying, such as acknowledging children's feelings, giving information so children know what to expect, offering choices and problem-solving together, to elicit good behavior from children,” he said.
Helping Children Stop Lying
When lying becomes chronic, parents really need to help their children. Lying can become a bad habit when kids see it's an effective way to get out of trouble. Thus, it is important to address the problem in a straightforward manner and discourage it from happening again. Here are some ways to do it:
1 – Recognize the nature of lying
Lying is normal as children grow up. However, parents need to be aware that there are varied degrees of lying. According to Lifehack, the leading source of practical and adaptable knowledge dedicated to improving health and happiness, parents need to remember that the ability to lie can emerge naturally and remains a genuine sign of formative cognitive development. While recognizing this, they should still discipline their kids.
2 - Provide positive reinforcement
Children need to be praised to feel that they are doing something right. Parents can do this by saying, “I know that must have been hard to tell me that you broke that dish, but I’m so glad that you chose to be honest about it.” They can also give them something to reward them.
3 - Talk about the importance of telling the truth.
Parents need to discuss with their children the difference between telling the truth versus telling a lie. This will help them understand the consequences of both and the importance of honesty. According to VeryWell Mind, a modern resource that offers a realistic and friendly approach to pregnancy and parenting, it is also equally significant to talk about telling the truth versus being brutally honest. They should understand that honesty and compassion should come together most of the time.
4 - Provide an extra consequence.
Parents can tell their kids they will face a consequence if they continue lying. It is effective to give them extra chores or tasks instead of just taking away their gadgets for the day. At the same time, discuss with them why are you doing this so they will understand that lying is never right.