Is your child telling lies OR are they light on the truth?
These are two different things.
One of the most important takeaways to consider is that a four year old is not capable of lies, at least not in the context of deliberate intention to hide information in the way an adult might be motivated to tell a lie. There is no intention to be duplicitous or deceitful.
Age appropriate expectations
In this age group, especially the 4-8yos, they will often use fantasy (variation of the truth, or omission of details) as a way of saving face or staying out of trouble. As an adult, we can jump to the conclusion that we can’t let them get away with lying, otherwise they will become liars and be untrustworthy. Which is taking a big leap, based on a few incidents.
Sure, they may be lacking truth, and they might be acting in fantasy, however rather than jumping in to calling them lies, it’s to appreciate that for them, they are their protective mechanism, and not meant to be deceitful. They are generally a feature of their instinct to preserve their safety, which us adults often forget, that a child needs our protection.
The way we respond to those incidents WILL and does make a difference.
Though can be quite the opposite of the intended outcome.
The concern with labelling a child under the age of six as a liar is that we are usually then mad at them at a whole deeper level. (our language creates our reality).
Our own “shark music” takes over and we are reacting as if it this is the biggest crime of the century (well maybe that’s just me), when it was a moment in time. In my family there was almost no bigger crime than telling lies.
What can happen though, is because we are dealing with a person who has no logic or reasoning skills, they can create meanings that we don’t intend.
One potential consequence is that our child learns that they are not acceptable when they tell lies. Which might drive them to tell the truth, except that sometimes, the truth is not actually the most appropriate response.
I didn’t tell lies, however, that fear of judgement for telling lies also created a belief that truth is the only way. The reality is, that even though you may not consider it, most of us tell lies occasionally. They might be considered little “white” lies, but they are still a deviation from the truth. What happened in not telling lies is that I was not a particularly popular individual because when challenged or asked you received the truth, as it was, no softeners. Lots of people don’t actually want the truth in all circumstances..
Being able to differentiate when it is appropriate to tell the truth, as it is, and when it is appropriate to deviate is actually a core competency of emotional intelligence.
It’s about discernment.
The problem with taking a high-handed approach, challenging a lie, is that for children under the age of 8-10, what can be the unintended consequence is that we actually drive the behaviour and even force the lies.
If a child is telling lies (and you know it’s a lie), then it is likely they already know that what they originally did was wrong. When we challenge that lie, and they get into trouble for telling lies, and they tell the truth, and still get into trouble, we’ve ended up backing them into a loose loose corner.
Children will play the odds (at a totally subconscious level) that the lie may keep them safe from being in trouble, next time. It’s part of their lack of logic and reasoning skills.
There are all sorts of ecological ways (good for you, good for them, good for the greater good) ways to manage when untruths are in play. Sometimes ignoring them is the best choice.
You do not need to prove to them that they can’t pull the wool over your eyes.
You can call their bluff with humour, if that is appropriate to the context, to give them a way out without shaming them, and also at the same time letting them know you know.
Other times, if the issue is more serious, and the lie is concerning and you want to navigate to a solution, is to go the validation, empathise, curiosity pathway. To gain information, without making them feel toxic shame. (the difference being that shame is I made a mistake, and toxic shame is I am a mistake and is the effect of a shame experience in the under sixes because they believe they are the cause of everything).
Its appropriate to allow them to feel guilt, however guilting them with toxic shame is unhealthy and the reason that we need to consider that we are supposed to be wiser and kinder, meaning being adults who understand that children are still developing, and that this behaviour is an indication of a deep concern for them. We can support them to sort that when we approach with compassion rather than anger (or disappointment).
Even when we think we are lovely gentle parents our children may still be afraid of letting us down or getting into trouble. Especially in the younger age groups, because the meanings they create are based on their perspective, not our reality.
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Author – Leanne G Wakeling – Relationship and Communication Coach, Parenting Mentor, Behaviour and Thinking Styles Profiler.