The Truth About Your Child's Lies

Why do kids lie? It often depends on their developmental stage. For instance, preschoolers tell tall tales because of an overactive imagination, young kids fib to please grownups and older kids lie to solve problems. Although the ways to minimize lying will vary depending on your child's age, ineffective ways of responding to lying are the same. Here are the most effective ways of responding to untruthfulness, plus four parental habits that should be broken:

Four Habits to Lose

1. Don't have unrealistic expectations of your kids, as this encourages a child to lie to meet your approval.

2. Don't say, "If you tell the truth you won't get in trouble" -- and then punish her when she admits a wrongdoing.

3. Don't tell white lies. This teaches your child to do the same. If a friend calls whom your daughter doesn't want to speak to, don't say, "I'm sorry, Lisa's not home right now."

4. Don't set your kids up. If you know he left his homework at home, don't ask, "Did your teacher like your story?"

The Best Ways to Respond to Lying

When your preschooler tells a tall tale, say:
• "Wow. You have a great imagination!"
• "Tell me more. It's fun to play make-believe."
• "What a great story. Sometimes I wish I lived in a castle too."

When your school-age child fibs, say:
• "Although you said you did your homework, I can see that you haven't. Next time I'd rather you tell the truth."
• "I realize you've told me something that isn't entirely true. In the future I'd rather you be honest."

• "We all make mistakes. Next time, just let me know what happened without changing the facts."

When your older child lies, say:
• "Every problem has a solution. Why don't you tell me what's going on so I can help you."
• "There have been times in my life when I thought the best way to solve a problem was to avoid it. But this never proved right."
• "You seem to be having a problem. I'm here to help you if you'd like to talk about it."

TIP: The most powerful lessons are the ones that come from how we face adversity in our own lives.

Cathryn Tobin, M.D., is a pediatrician, midwife and a member of the Canadian Pediatric Society and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons. Her new book The Parent's Problem Solver: Smart Solutions for Everyday Discipline and Behavior Problems was published by Random House. Dr. Tobin has been speaking on parenting issues for more than 20 years. She lives with her husband and four children in Ontario.

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