How to Respond to a Grandchild’s Lying

Question:

At what age do you begin to work with children regarding lying? What is an appropriate response from a parent or grandparent?

Response:

First, it’s important to understand that young children, typically up to the age of about 7, are very imaginative, and they often make up stories and get caught up in fantasies as they interact with the world around them. In these cases, they are not intending to deceive anyone. Rather, they may find that telling stories brings them a lot of attention and they like that.

Lying requires a child to decide to say something that isn’t true to avoid punishment or get something that he or she wants. Therefore, age is not as important as knowing whether the child intends to be deceptive or not.

Parents and grandparents need to talk with children about the importance of being honest so people in their lives can learn to trust them. The adults should state their expectations for honesty in simple, age-appropriate language and talk about the consequences of lying. They can explain that we all must follow some guidelines, or rules, in life in order to be safe and healthy. One of those rules is being honest and if it is broken, a good consequence would be the removal of a privilege that is important to the child.

You can relate the consequence to the offense by saying something like, “I trusted you, so you were given some privileges because of my trust in you. Now that you have broken that trust, you will need to give up some of the privileges that came with my trust in you and earn that trust back.”

On the other hand, if children are consistently honest, they should gain more privileges to reward them for good behavior. Also, so children won’t lie to avoid punishment, it’s helpful to let them know that if they make a mistake and tell the truth, there may still be a consequence for the mistake, but it will not be as harsh as if they lie to avoid the consequence.

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