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  • Lying Is a Developmental Milestone: How to Use it to Instill Honesty

    Don't label your child as "sinungaling" just yet. How to deal when your preschooler starts to lie.
    by Jillianne E. Castillo .
Lying Is a Developmental Milestone: How to Use it to Instill Honesty
  • So, your little angel is telling tall tales, long lies, and fantastical fibs – it’s okay, mom. In fact, lying at toddler to preschool age is typical of a child’s development and and can even be seen a good sign.

    A preschooler will lie for a number of reasons but rarely is it with malicious intent. Your child may be lying to avoid you getting mad at him, to please you or seek your approval, or to get your attention. It can also be wishful thinking (“My mommy is buying me a new doll tomorrow”), an active imagination, or simple forgetfulness. Such lies are often understandable and forgivable.

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    How to deal with your child’s lying

    It doesn’t mean, though, that you can’t start helping your child understand the value of honesty and the consequences of lying. Here are a few tips: 

    Don’t lie yourself, mom. 

    Or at least don't let your kids catch you doing so. Remember, children are big copycats, and they’re perceptive. Your preschooler can figure out when you lie to him.

    At a doctor’s check-up, for example, do you tell your child an injection won’t hurt? Or, do you say broccoli will give your child super strength to make him eat his vegetables? Let your child know that you can be trusted to tell the truth and that you trust her to do the same. The same goes for promises. “Try to keep your word, and when you can't, apologize for breaking a promise,” advises BabyCenter


    Keep your cool.

    Go against your gut reaction, which means trying not to be mad (not easy exactly). It will encourage your child to feel it’s okay to tell the truth. In an article on WebMD, pediatrician Dr. Tanya Remer Altmann recommends saying the words, “It’s important to tell the truth,” rather than the accusatory, “You lied.” 

    Build a relationship where he feels safe for telling the truth. “Connection is the foundation for truth-telling. It is the ground upon which honesty grows. A well-connected child wants to share her heart with you” says Miriam Mason Martineau for Huffington Post. “Connection is the strongest, most reliable preventative measure you can take against lying. Make time for it.”

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    Make it easy for your child to tell the truth.

    If your child is denying something you know she’s done (like drawing on mommy’s mirror), a good way to handle the situation is by playing dumb. Say something like, “I wonder who drew on mommy’s mirror with red lipstick? I wish someone would help me clean this up.” It makes it easier for your child to tell the truth. If it’s a tall tale, you can also try, “I really don’t think that’s what happened…”

    When your child owns up to her actions, praise her honesty and tell her you’re proud of her. “Acknowledge that telling the truth may seem difficult sometimes,” says Rick Weissbourd, a senior lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Education. (It's true even for grown-ups, right?)

    “Sometimes being honest is really tough for them, it takes real courage. And we need to be able to honor that courage.” Reassure your child that you may dislike misbehavior but that you love her no matter what. 

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    Avoid punishments.

    Scare tactics may work for now, but they could backfire and lead to stubbornness and rebellion later on. Instead, turn the situation into a learning moment. “These are teaching opportunities to show your child what they should do in the future,” Dr. Altmann told WebMD. “Unless it's really serious, stay away from punishment and turn it into a learning opportunity.” 

    Tell her how dishonesty can have bad consequences (such as if you lie to a teacher, for example) and how honesty lets people know that someone can be trusted (say, like in the story The Boy Who Cried Wolf). 

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    Set limits but also allow for choices.

    Make it clear which behaviors are okay and which aren't. Your child might not have known if it was okay to play with your makeup. She doesn't want to admit it was her because you're mad. “Providing clearly defined limits is one of the most loving, positive things you can do for your preschooler. Eventually, she'll be able to use them to judge for herself whether a behavior is appropriate,” says BabyCenter

    On the other hand, if you find your child lying about the same thing multiple times, consider compromising. “Make a practice of negotiating some choices with your child so he knows he has a say in what he eats, wears, plays with. Then he doesn’t have to make up a story to do it his way,” says Today's Parent.

    If he lies about finishing his baon (you find out he's throwing them out or giving them away), ask him why he doesn't like his food and do something about it so both of you are happy.


    Instilling the value of honesty is easier when your child learns from experience. Don't just tell her, "Don't lie." Take the time to explain to her what she did wrong and deliver on those consequences. And don't forget to speak the truth (as much as you can). Happy parenting!

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