Q. I have a child in my group that often denies her behaviour and blames others for things we know she has done. What can we do to stop her from lying?
A. While lying is an important developmental milestone, it can be frustrating when we know that a child is not telling the truth. It is important to consider that when a child lies it is because they feel this is the best way to meet their need. Children are wired for connection, and while some children may lie to explore the boundaries of truth, many lies stem from their deep-seated need to maintain connection with caregivers or peers. Consider what a child may expect to happen if they told the truth. If a child is fearful of how we will react to the truth, lying is likely to occur in order to avoid exclusion, shame or punishment.
Foster relationships wherein children feel Seen, Soothed, Safe & Secure. When children see that we understand their experiences and are able to compassionately help them meet their needs, they are more likely to feel comfortable enough to share their truth with us. A safe learning environment is one without fear of being shamed for making mistakes and accepted as we are.
Keep in mind that a child will lie when something is getting in the way of them telling the truth. Often lying happens due to fear of disconnection. Support the child with empathy and understanding to prevent them from feeling the need to lie. This approach also provides insight into the behaviours they are trying to conceal and supports skill building.
A child may lie because they broke a friend’s Lego structure, took a peer’s ball or ate someone else’s snack. The child who behaves in this way is still developing the social and emotional regulation skills to better meet their needs. Support skill development by first empathizing with them, teaching alternatives, and collaborating to brainstorm ideas.
For example, a child who takes a peer’s toy may not know how to ask for a turn or join in play. By understanding that this might be the root cause and labeling the child’s want, we set them up to learn the skills they need to be successful. Instead of asking the child, “Did you take that ball without asking?” prevent the lie by validating their want with an empathetic statement noting, “It looks like you want to play with the ball.” Then support them to practice turn taking by saying, “I noticed your friend was playing with it first. Let’s go ask him if you can have a turn.”
Another child may lie about eating someone else’s snack. Again, consider the root cause, be empathetic and consider alternative ways to better meet the child’s need. Instead of asking the child, “Did you eat your friend’s snack?” prevent the lie by inviting the child in and validating their need with an empathetic statement like, “So, I noticed your friend’s snack was eaten… Were you still hungry after you finished yours?” If the child says yes, perhaps the solution may be to reassure them that next time they can ask you for more food. Or, if children bring their own snacks, perhaps you can brainstorm ideas for an “emergency snack bin” that children can access as needed.
The key is to stay open, compassionate and connected with the child to help them solve the problem without judgement. We all make mistakes, and it is with supportive adult relationships that children learn the skills they need to meet their needs. By providing empathy and connection to support skill building, we set children up for success and prevent them from feeling the need to lie.
- Shame and punishment hinder skill building and actually increase the probability of lying.
- Avoid setting up lies with yes-no questions which invite children to deny behaviours we know have occurred.
- Safe & Secure Relationships maintained by responsive caregivers provide children with the connection they need to safely learn and develop the skills to effectively overcome day-to-day challenges.