A Window into Life in the Suburbs

"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these." Luke 12:27 (NIV)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Why Do Children Lie?

Why do children lie?
Why does anybody lie...
  • Out of fear of consequences... ie to save their skin...
  • To impress others 
  • To conceal the truth because the truth is of no benefit to them
  • To push the blame onto someone else
  • To make someone else look bad
When I was a schoolgirl I lied because I helped myself to money in my little brother's piggy bank. I knew it was wrong to take something that wasn't mine but I did it anyway. When I was found out, I protested my innocence, in a performance worthy of an Oscar.
Self-preservation is a natural human instinct. When self-preservation at the expense of truth occurs... something within the person... the conscience becomes dulled.

Apparently you don't have to teach a child to lie. But you have to teach him/her to face up to the truth and the consequences that might bring. That's a lot more painful, no doubt.
Why should we worry about "the truth"? I mean, c'mon... they're only children... what's a few lies here and there... They'll grow out of it surely?

I'm not so optimistic. Especially when it appears that dishonesty has no painful consequences but pays dividends instead.
Of course, I'm not talking about the 3 year old fantasizing about being the daughter of a king or that she's been invited to her best friend's party.

What's fascinating is that Eve the helpmate of Adam, whom I believe was a real person by the way, fell for a lie. Guilt-ridden over what they had done, our first parents attempted vainly to conceal their act of disobedience with more half-truths. And we've been lying ever since.

Frankly speaking, I don't know if  we can ever stop our children from lying (outside of supernatural intervention). That... I think is possibly a lost cause. Mitigation, it seems to me, is the key.
However, my approach to all this is simple. I encourage the 9 year old to tell the truth. I take my cue from The Winslow Boy, a great play and film about truth and justice. In it, the father exhorts his son to tell the truth and promises not to be angry as long as his son is truthful about whether he had stolen the money.

Calmness is very necessary. So are consequences. If they are to learn anything, they must face up to them. But anger doesn't help, I don't think. Neither is lashing out in anger constructive.

I take many deep breaths... I may have to walk away for a little while and come back to it later.
Then I say, "E... I am feeling very disappointed right now. I want you to tell me the truth about (ABC situation)... I will have to (XYZ consequence) but I'd rather you tell me the truth now than for me to find out the truth from somewhere else. I promise not to be angry."

The first time I did that... I felt relieved that on a rare occasion I actually got it right. I think children lie mainly because they are afraid to tell the truth. But if we make it easi-er for them to tell the truth by our not throwing a fit, I think they will be more inclined to spill the beans and accept the consequences.

A funny thing... this parenting business... it makes you take a good look at the log in your own eye before trying to gauge out the speck in others.


  1. Ah, so true. I find it hard too, with my very young children, who don't really understand what lying is. My eldest daughter is SO honest it's almost obsessive. My next daughter, I have had a few issues with lying, mostly out of fear of consequences. I've tried to show my kids that I'm reasonable, and yes, consequences are real, but if they can show me that they are repentant and have "changed" than I'm reasonable. I hope. But it's hard.

  2. Yeah, it's very tough.
    Interesting though how being truthful comes so easily to some and not to others. Wonder what it is that drives the naturally honest ones that doesn't do the same for the others.
    Would make an interesting blog post methinks.


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