At times it is quite difficult to understand why our children lie to us. Intellectually we can understand that they want their private lives, fear getting in trouble with parents or others, don’t want to suffer consequences, and want to avoid punishment at all costs. All those reasons and reactions are normal to human behavior. But, what is going on in a child that repeatedly lies to us?
James A. Fogarty, Ed.D, Clinical and Social Psychologist, describes several types of lying. He believes that each type has a definite purpose.
The first is exaggeration. Children often use exaggeration to inflate their sense of self-esteem when they lack confidence. Children who exaggerate stories feel like a “gray child,” which is a child who does not excel at anything, and therefore, receives little attention. Gray children try to gain attention by using colorful or elaborate exaggerations. So, when children exaggerate stories, loved ones may offer the enthusiastic attention these children crave.
The second is distorting the truth. Distorting the truth is a much more serious lie, because it requires children to be more deceptive. They often have hidden motives, such as setting up another child or person to take the blame for their misbehavior; denying the truth to get out of trouble; or avoiding undesirable activity (chores, homework). Distorting the truth forces children to continue to lie to keep the original lie believable. With this more advanced lying, children actively rehearse lying to others and become more accomplished liars.
The third is lying by omission. When children lie by omission, they withhold important information from their parents. Lying of this nature is serious, especially if the truth is obvious.
All children will occasionally lie, but when children are committed to lying, parental intervention is important.
Parents can increase their children’s lying behavior if they use any of the following overindulgent parenting principles:
1. Shielding children from the consequences of their actions as well as the complications of life.
2. Being too trusting or gullible.
Parents want to trust their children, but when children lie they are untrustworthy. Children who lie will often defend themselves by saying to their parents, “You should trust me!” This leads parents to feel guilty for not trusting their children. They believe that if they were good parents, they would try to trust their children once again. Most parents are intelligent people who know they should not trust their children, but they ignore their good judgment.
Parent’s Management of Children’s Lying Behavior
1. Have a strong commitment to the truth. It is important for children to learn that they cannot manipulate their parents with lies and deceit.
2. There is no substitute for truth and honesty. There are no substitutes for truthful labels. Honesty is a basic value that helps create good self-esteem, character, and relationships.
3. When children exaggerate to get your attention, it is helpful to consider the amount and quality of the time you spend with your children. Exaggeration suggests a child has unmet needs for attention. Be open to self-appraisal and to decide if you need to make changes with the time you spend with your children.
4. To reduce gullibility and susceptibility to guilt trips, trust your emotions and think more positively.
Indignation is an appropriate reaction when children try to manipulate with guilt. When children use guilt to manipulate you, they are insulting you. They are suggesting that you are dumb enough to fall for their manipulative guilt trips. That is not the case, of course, but parents need to be aware of their children’s charade.
When Doris realized her daughter was trying to manipulate her, she became indignant, saying in a very rational tone, “You are trying to manipulate me with a guilt trip. It will not work. If you want something from me, you better be straightforward and honest. Then I will tell you how you can earn what you want. Guilt trips won’t work.”
Fogarty, J. (2003). Over-Indulged Children: A Parent’s Guide to Mentoring. Liberty Publishing Group.