Making up stories that are completely untrue or incorrect: all children lie sometimes. This is quite normal for young children. But what is "normal" for what age and how can you as a parent best react when your child lies. Here you can read by age why your child is lying and how you can deal with it.
Lying is not always bad, it is part of a child's development. On the other hand, lying to your child is not something you should welcome and control. There are different degrees of lying and different ages at which children have to learn what is and is not possible when it comes to lying.
But why do children lie? what is the reason children start with it?
Why do children lie?
A child never just lies. Lying has to do with the stage in which a child is in his development or with a certain fear. For example, because your child is afraid of punishment or disapproval. Your child then wants to avoid punishment by lying. Or your child is very insecure and pretends to be different than he is. Then your child does not want to disappoint you or anyone else. It may also be that your child wants to get attention with his lying behavior or that he has to keep a secret and lies to protect himself or someone else.
As you can see, there are several reasons for lying, but age also plays a role here. Children up to about 7 years of age do not lie deliberately, then we also call it joking, not deliberately lying. If you lie, you must be able to understand and realize or imagine what the other person does or does not know. And in that you will come up with a variant, and convince the other person of it. That is not easy, you need to have a lot of social and cognitive skills for this. Especially young children cannot do this yet.
Children between 2-5 years old
When young children do not tell the truth, it has to do with the overlap of fantasy and reality. They are not yet able to distinguish between what really happened and what they would like. Their fantasy: imaginary boyfriend, talking stuffed animals or monsters under their bed can thus guide their behavior. Even if they really want something, they can pretend it's real. In addition, children process certain events or impressions in their own way.
If your child tells a lie at this age, it is often very obvious. You can immediately see it on the face of your son or daughter. Or your child tells the truth immediately after the lie. They already understand that if you've done something naughty, there's little point in punishing a toddler for lying, simply because he doesn't realize he's doing something wrong.
Those self-serving white lies are the first lies a toddler experiments with. It is better at such a moment to say: 'Look, the vase is broken', instead of: 'Did you break the vase?!'. “An angry accusation demands to be answered with a lie.
Children between 6-8 years old
The lying here is still very innocent and unconscious. But your kid will get better at lying. They can now hold a lie for much longer, even if you ask. But 5 to 8 year olds can also tell lies that are not so selfless. At this age, children tell lies for all sorts of reasons. For example, they are afraid that their parents will be disappointed, that they will be punished or that they will have too much work on their plate. Suppose your child has difficulty with math. If you ask about his math homework, your child may say that he has no homework, precisely because of the difficulty your child has with it. Before you impose sanctions on your child, it is better to ask about his motives.
Children between 9-12 years old
As your child gets older, it understands more and more. Your child understands that when he does something, it has a certain consequence. So lying is now becoming more conscious. Lying at this age often stems from fear. Fear of punishment or rejection. Insecure children are better at presenting themselves. Lies about daily activities that your child does not feel like are also common at this age. Lying about homework, brushing your teeth or a chore, for example. Children of this age already have much more social and cognitive skills, which
makes it increasingly difficult to recognize lying. By the age of about nine, children begin to understand the difference between truth and fiction. But that does mean that it creates a kind of 'grey area'. Sometimes children understand exactly what is fiction and what is not, but sometimes not at all.
That same gray area encompasses the extent to which your child shares something about his 'private life' with you. If you used to tell your child everything he experienced in one day in detail, now that is becoming less and less. And that doesn't mean that your child is suddenly up to all kinds of sneaky things, but that he is growing up more and more.
Children from the age of 12
Teenagers can be very good at lying. They have a lot of insight into behaviour, its consequences and also know how others think. In this phase of life, children start to rebel against their parents. Almost every teenager lies to their parents from time to time. Your adolescent no longer wants to share everything with you. Your adolescent also knows that you prefer to see him do his homework neatly, tidy his room, but your child wants to experiment and spend a lot of time with friends. Children at this age often lie about this. Adolescents often think about the short term and a lie sometimes yields more in the short term than being honest. They are not so quick to think about the long-term consequences of lying.
What can you do as a parent?
Children who are anxious or feel they are not in control of a situation may lie. It can be a sign of different types of stress. That is why it is important to find out what is behind a lot of lying.
These 3 steps work very well with young children (from 2 years to about 8 years), where lying is not conscious. Do not ask the question: “Did you destroy that?”, but name what you see. “The toy is broken.” Also, don't ask if they've lied, but let them know from an early age that being honest is important.
STEP 1. Name what you see --> "I see that the toy is broken".
STEP 2. Acknowledge your child's wish or need --> "You probably find that very unfortunate".
STEP 3. Say what you expect or set a limit --> "We're going to fix it, and make sure it doesn't happen again. Otherwise we have nothing to play with".
From the age of 9 you can handle things differently as a parent. First, it is important to set a good example yourself. Your child mirrors your behavior. Secondly, it is important that you continue to talk to your child. Explain what the damage can be from (frequent) lying: it can damage your child's credibility and relationships. Keep talking to each other and eventually your child will grow into an honest and balanced adult.
More tips for parents
Lying is part of it
It is part of your child's development. Your child tries out and learns a lot as a result.
Children often lie to avoid punishment. If you punish regularly, it encourages lying. Your child then wants to avoid punishment by lying. Let your child experience logical consequences of his behavior, but do not punish.
Listen and stay calm
When your child tells you something, always try to remain calm. Children often lie because they don't want their mother or father to get mad at them. So try to avoid this. Stay involved and try to empathize with your child and help your child come up with a solution.
Look for the cause
Kids don't just lie. Talk about it with your child. Do this in a calm, engaged way without reproach. Preferably don't ask a question that starts with 'why', because then your child will probably feel attacked. Try a question that starts with "How," "What," or "Where," such as:
How come you said otherwise?
What is going on?
What did you think? What was on your mind?
What were you afraid of?
What could have happened if you had said it right away?
Give an example
Tell your child that honesty is important to you and lead by example. Do not lie yourself and always be honest. stick to your word towards others and especially towards your child. Explain to your child the consequences of lying. Emphasize that it is more important to you that your child tells the truth than that he or she has done something stupid or naughty. Let your child know that they can also say nasty things to you. Also things that your child has done wrong, and promise that you will not get angry (and keep this promise).
Compliment when being honest
Give compliments if your child is honest. Before commenting on what your child is saying, emphasize that you like your child to tell you honestly. Tell them that this will help you better help your child.
Ask your child how they managed to be honest. This question allows you to discover for yourself what helps your child to be honest more often.
Creating a safe and positive environment is important to prevent or reduce lying!