Why Does My Child Lie?
Lying is one of the topics that comes up a lot in the work that I do.
It’s one of the things that causes so much frustration with the families and professionals I work with.
In this article, I’m going to talk through some of the reasons for lying and give you an overview to help you think about lying in a different way, and share some ways you can begin to work through it with your children.
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“First of all, I want you to know, I understand. I understand how very frustrating being lied to is.”
Like with everything I teach, I tend to look at things like lying by looking at what is sitting underneath the behaviour.
Whatever behaviour it is we’re struggling with, I always ask – what is causing that behaviour? When we look at what’s sitting underneath, through time we can start to change it.
You might be familiar with my emotions iceberg.
When we look at the image, and put our behaviours and feelings in to the context of the iceberg, the bit of the iceberg that sits above the water is the emotion that we can see – control, anger or lying. All of these behaviours above the “water line” are driven by what is sitting below the water line, the things that we can’t see – fear, hunger, anxiety, worry etc.
Those feelings and emotions below the water line are what we need to be aiming to support our child with. We want to help them understand those feelings so that they can get to the point where they don’t need to come out with control, anger and lying.
As adults, when we get annoyed with something, if we can reframe how we see it so that we can see the behaviour as communication instead of something our child does that frustrates us, it becomes much easier to deal with. We need both us and them to realise that it’s their way of showing us a particular emotion and when we understand where it’s coming from, our internal response to it will be different.
When our children are telling us a blatant lie, it is hard to accept. It can be extremely triggering for us when they are so obviously lying to us, but so often they are doing it as a way of avoiding a situation or an emotion. Perhaps they’re worried they’re going to get in trouble, or get shouted at.
We all say things sometimes to avoid being told off – perhaps you’ve told your boss you’ve done something when you haven’t, and you run off to get it done before they notice you’d forgotten – we don’t want to get in trouble, that’s normal human behaviour.
When our child is lying, it’s no different, they’re protecting themselves – possibly through fear of rejection or hatred – and when we start to see the lie from that point of view, we start to see things very differently and become more compassionate and understanding to our child. And this is where we can begin to create a change.
Sometimes they’re lying because their perception of the truth is different – the way they remember something is different to how you remember it. As adults, we need to be aware that two people can see the same situation very differently. It’s important to think about how we can change the word lying: are they actually lying or are they sharing their version of the truth?
It’s also a really natural part of child development to stretch the truth, and if we’re dealing with a child who has experienced trauma, they may not have already learned that as part of their development. Perhaps lying used to be part of a survival strategy for them.
So here are a couple of strategies which can help you deal with lying.
When we focus on connection and realise that as adults, we can change our responses and how we interact with our child in order to bring around change for them, then we start to see big changes happening, and that’s the really powerful part of this. If we reframe how we respond to these types of behaviours, our children will learn through time that they no longer need these behaviours.
Yes, children will always lie to us, particularly when they’re teenagers – it’s part of growing up and part of being a teenager. We’ve probably all lied to our parents at some point in time, we have to allow for that as part of their development. If we are not understanding of that as part of their development, then we can’t support them in understanding when they’re lying because it feels safe or they’re trying to avoid something, If we can support them with that then they’re more likely to be more open and honest with us. If we’re not getting angry and shouting at them when they tell us something, there’s less reason for them to lie. They need to know it’s safe to make a mistake or get something wrong. By supporting their self belief and inner growth, we’re likely to see a change.
Love & Empathy:
This isn’t going to be resolved at the flick of a switch. Once we’ve recognised the behaviour from them that triggers us, we can begin to stay calm and respond with love, empathy and understanding. We can also then begin to give them a way to potentially change their mind if they want to – if they’ve backed themselves in to a corner, help them out of it! Don’t push them in to it even more.
Help them realise it’s ok to tell us the truth. It’s so important to support them without creating a sense of shame. We can then begin to work through any underlying feelings that they may be having which created the situation.
Ultimately, lying is part of child development.
But like anything, we need to get to the root cause and begin responding with love and empathy instead of anger and frustration. Over time we will start to see those changes coming through.
We can help them work through it.