What makes children/us lie?

Sometimes we will lie to see if we can get away with it.  If lying is met with a high energy response (yelling, anger or frustration), it reinforces the behavior.  Remember, if children/we want or need attention, negative attention is better than none.  This is true with any behavior, for example cussing, acting out in public, and defiance.

Children also learn to lie from watching the adults in their life lie or not tell the whole truth.  To them there is no difference between a “little white lie” and untruths.  Sometimes we get caught in a lie when we don’t know how to communicate the truth in an age-appropriate manner. We reinforce this undesirable behavior if we tell children to keep a secret or if they hear us tell someone we are “fine” when they know we are sick, upset, etc.

We will lie when we are afraid to tell the truth or when we don’t want to disappoint parents, friends, teachers, mentors or our spouse.  We lie to protect ourselves and others from getting hurt.  In other words, the truth can be riskier than the lie.

Lying can become a habit (chronic lying) through conditioning (check out my blog about Learning).

What can we do?

  • Respond to lying with empathetic consequences in a “matter of fact” way, without arguing.
  • Give children the attention they need when things are going well.
  • Model telling the truth (age appropriate), even when it is uncomfortable.
  • Make it safe to tell the truth by listening without judgments or over reacting, no matter what they say.
  • Let them know that nothing they can do will make us love them anymore or any less.

I am here to help, feel free to contact me with questions or specifics.