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There are a couple reasons for lying.
Fear. Most of our children’s behavior is fear and anxiety based. For lying, it may be fear of getting in trouble, fear of disappointing you, or even fear of the truth. Some children have also used lying as a survival technique. If their fight/flight/freeze response has been triggered, their body is telling them that they’re in danger and lying will save them.
Fantasy. Many children have used fantasy for years to cope with whatever they’ve experienced. Their frequent use of fantasy may have even disabled their ability to distinguish reality from fantasy. This means what looks like a bold faced lie to you, may really seem like absolute truth to them.
These realities for how our children experience lying can be really hard to swallow, but giving them the benefit of the doubt so we can react with care and compassion is crucial. Plus, chances are you’ve tried everything else you can think of or you wouldn’t be here.
Whenever possible, never give your child the opportunity to lie. He will always take it. Questions such as “Did you do xyz?” are just setting a child up to lie. If you cannot trust your child to truthfully re-tell a situation, make it a point to have the child close enough that you always know what is going on, so you don’t have to rely on an unreliable reporter.
Since lying is usually a sign of extreme insecurity, it can be counteracted by copious amounts of connection and trust-building time. This is where we, as the adults in the equation, have to buck it up and slather on the nurture even when our child’s behavior makes our skin crawl. You can also create safety by providing more structure by keeping your child closer. This should not feel punitive but provide security and space for more connection.
Practice truth telling in low pressure situations. These are more like observations. “What color is my hair?” “How many fingers am I holding up?” Then over praise for telling the truth. You can also have your child practice re-telling stories that you’ve read, then practice re-telling together situations that you’ve both experienced.
Remember, trust-based parenting deals with behaviors at their root so the lying will not resolve overnight or even over a couple months. Stay consistent and be patient. What has worked (or not worked) in your family and for your children?
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