Why Do Kids Fib?

by Liza Blau

    Pinocchio is not alone -- most kids tell lies. And while lying is wrong, it's perfectly normal. We've likely all told a fib or two on occasion. The good news is your child is aware she's done something wrong: By trying to protect herself from your disappointment through lying, it shows that her conscience is working, according to HealthyChildren.org. The reasons kids choose to fib rather than tell the truth are varied.

    Fearing Mom & Dad's Disappointment

    Kids who are under great stress to achieve both in school and extracurricular activities often feel overwhelmed and lie to their parents rather than admit defeat. In many cases, their parents are perfectionists who pressure their children to achieve and hold them to unrealistically high standards. Kids might lie to them that they finished their homework, made the football team or cheerleading squad or scored a high grade on a test. Children lie because they know their parents assume they're doing better in school than they actually are and they don't want to disappoint them, according to John Hopkins Medicine. They're too afraid to discuss their struggles with their perfectionist parents and decide to lie to keep the peace.

    Seeking Attention

    Kids with low self-esteem often use lying to establish a more powerful identity that will impress their peers, even though the new identity is false, according to Empowering Parents. Lying can be an effort to elevate their popularity and gain respect at school by coming across as more impressive. Children who don't receive enough attention and praise both at home and in school often lie to win attention and approval. In young children, telling tall tales is usually a form of innocent storytelling rather than lying. Typically, young children don't begin to understand the difference between falsehood and truth until about age 7, according to pediatrician Dr. William Sears.

    Avoiding Punishment

    When children are aware that they've done something wrong and are frightened of harsh consequences, they lie as a form of self-protection, according to HealthyChildren.org. In fact, children who frequently receive severe punishment often become habitual liars. These children deduce that lying will cause them less pain than telling the truth. Even the threat of relatively minor punishments, such as being grounded or the loss of TV privileges, can lead many kids to do anything to avoid them -- including lying. In many families, telling the truth provokes anger from parents rather than understanding and forgiveness. This, in turn, leads kids to continue fibbing.

    Developing Boundaries

    As teens desire more independence from their parents, they prefer to keep many aspects of their lives private, and some of them believe the only way to accomplish that is through lying. To avoid their parents' disapproval and begin developing their autonomy, they might lie about who they're spending time with, where they're going for the evening and what their plans are. Not allowing your teen to go to parties, enforcing strict dress codes, forbidding her to wear makeup or other restrictions might lead her to engage in those activities when she's away from home and then lie to you about them.

    Loving the Liar, Not the Lies

    When you catch your child telling a lie, it won't help to become outraged. If you overreact with anger, cross-examine him or react in other negative ways, you might push your child into feeling like he has to continue the pattern of lying to protect himself, according to HealthyChildren.org. Many children are too young to fully understand what lying means, so calmly teaching yours why telling fibs is wrong is more effective than punishment. If the lying continues along with other behavioral problems, seek professional counseling.

    About the Author

    Liza Blau received a B.A. in English from Columbia University. Her writing has appeared in fiction anthologies from Penguin Press, W.W. Norton, NYU Press and others. After healing her own life-threatening asthma by switching to a whole, natural foods diet, she founded the NYC Asthma Wellness Center. Blau counsels individuals on healing their own asthma and allergies with dietary and lifestyle changes.

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