What to Do When Your Preschooler Lies


What do you do when you catch your pre-schooler in the middle of a bold-faced lie? ‘Mom, I didn’t break the vase!’ or ‘No, I haven’t watched cartoons.’ But you know, from his expression, that he isn’t telling the truth.

Sometimes the fact that our child lied to us seems worse than the fact that he broke a rule. We want our kids to be honest and straightforward with us. How do we deal with the situation? Here are some parenting tips on what to do when your child lies.

Why pre-schoolers lie

Your child is not lying out of malicious intent. He may be lying because he wants to regain control of a situation. He’s scared of being punished, or feels overwhelmed by what happened. For example, if he did break the vase, he may be replaying the loud crash, the spill of the water on the carpet, Mommy’s scream. All this makes him panic, and he may have blurted out the lie as a way of coping.

Sometimes a child lies because he has trouble distinguishing fact from fantasy, like when he has imaginary friends or makes up some fanciful achievement at the playground or pre-school.

Sometimes the lie is wishful thinking (he may have told his friend that he had a brand new toy) or in more severe cases, a cry for attention. If lying that he fell down the stairs or was pushed by his sister is the only way to get you to react, he will do it.

Parenting tip # 1: Build trust

Show your child that it’s important to tell the truth because it helps build trust. This is a big concept to teach so it’s best to lead by example. If you promise that you’ll spend time reading her stories before bedtime, keep that promise. If you can’t, don’t make excuses. Apologize for breaking your promise, and make amends.

Parenting tip # 2: Tell anecdotes

You can read stories like ‘The Boy who Cried Wolf’ or share your own childhood experiences. ‘When I was a little girl, I once lost your grandmother’s favorite necklace after she told me not to touch it. She asked me who did it and I told her it was my fault. She was very sad but told me she loved me, and I promised to be more careful.’ It will show him that honesty is more rewarding, and lies have serious repercussions. (Look at this article on teaching kids values for more tips on how to reinforce the importance of honesty.)

Parenting tip # 3: Show him that you’re always there to listen

In other words, he doesn’t have to lie to get your attention, and if he has a problem or is in trouble he can tell you the truth and you will hear him out and not scream or nag before he can get 10 words out.

Parenting tip # 4: Sometimes it’s okay to play along.

If the lie stems from an active imagination and is really just harmless fun, play along. Listen with interest (not sarcasm) and help him land back on the bedrock of reality. An active imagination is part of a child’s normal psychological development and is relatively harmless. If your child assigns blame for a messy room to his imaginary pal, tell him to ask his ‘friend’ to help clean up.

Parenting tip # 5: Don’t back him into a corner

Instead of angry confrontations, frame your statements so they appear non-threatening, but are able to coax your child into admission. For example, if you see muddy footprints all over their kitchen floor, calmly ask how the floor got all dirty and tell your child to clean it up.

Photo from sheknows.com

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