Why does my child lie?


Lying is a defence mechanism to safeguard oneself from uncomfortable situations. So, when a child is caught lying, try to get to the underlying reason for such behaviour, rather than mock or punish him, says Gayathri Srinath

Little Ravi is fidgeting and squirming when his teacher asks him why his test paper has not been signed and returned. He has no answer. The teacher searches his bag (without his permission and in front of the whole class) and discovers that he has not shown the paper to his parents at all. She discloses this to the whole class. He is in Class V.

Fifteen-year-old Nidhi looks defiant when confronted about the presence of a cell phone in her school bag. She cannot provide a convincing explanation, and it is obvious to anyone looking at her that she is lying to cover up for something she did not want others to know. The absence of remorse on her face shocks her parents and teachers. It seemed as if she couldn’t care less about what was happening.
These are common situations in schools today.

Parents are anguished that their children lie. They are shocked that despite giving them everything, children turn out liars. They blame the media, peer group, school atmosphere, etc. for this situation. School authorities in turn, blame poor parenting when children lie. In this blame game, the truth behind these lies is lost, never to be found often.

Have adults really given everything to their children? Have they given them acceptance, unconditional love, empathy, moral support, respect, time? These are even more valuable to a child than expensive gadgets and foreign holidays.

Has anyone spoken to the child in a compassionate tone, asking him if he was afraid of something and if that was the reason he/she lied? Has anyone apologised to the child saying that it was the adult’s failing that the child felt like defending himself through a lie rather than sharing his difficulties with a compassionate adult?
The answer, in most cases, will be in the negative.

The child cannot understand why getting more marks is so important than playing or getting a treat.  He often gets good marks because he wants to please the adults around him who will treat him well because of his good marks. But, what happens when he cannot score? It is a fearful condition to be in for anyone, forget a child.

White lies

The fact is we all lie at sometime in our lives to get out of uncomfortable situations. We all have seen adults lie (eg: lying to the boss to get leave). We have to remember that kids watch all this and learn their own lessons. Adults themselves tell children that it is okay to tell “white lies” as they don’t cause any harm. So, when he lies for the first time he thinks it is okay as it is a ‘white’ lie. But, to his confusion, the adults get hurt or angry.

On subsequent occasions, although he has understood that lying can cause harm, he still goes ahead anyway as there is no choice. Soon he stops caring for others as they stopped caring for him in his moment of need, and the cycle keeps repeating. By the time he is in high school, he gets sweet revenge by hitting back at the elders who insulted him earlier.

Lying is a defence mechanism employed by any normal person to safeguard himself from uncomfortable situations. Children (or anyone else) with low self-esteem are more prone to lying than confident children. Low self-esteem is often the result of poor parenting, poor teaching methods, life situations etc.

It is easy to spot a liar due to his or her poor body language like fidgeting, inconsistent facts etc. The child knows he is lying and hence the poor body language.

Pathological liars and psychopaths rarely see what they are saying as a lie. That is why they do not exhibit any signs of lying like those mentioned above. For them, there is no distortion of reality and whatever they say itself is reality.  Such habitual lying is a symptom of major disorders like sociopathic disorder, etc. and need the intervention of psychiatrists and therapists.

Such cases are very rare in school and normal situations. Parents and teachers often feel that even when there is no need to lie, children lie. This is untrue. When probed, in almost all cases children have issues at home or school that need sorting out. Once the core issue is sorted, the lying stops. Lying is a learnt behaviour. What is learnt can also be “unlearnt” through acceptance and appropriate handling.

No normal child wants to do badly at home or at school. All children need unconditional love. But, when adults give love based on conditions like getting good marks (despite the child clearly struggling in studies), exhibit good behaviour in class (despite feeling hungry/sleepy/sad), the child lies in defence as he has failed to satisfy those conditions but still craves for love.

Overfocusing on marks, ignoring/non-accepting of learning disabilities, not having good relations with children, not understanding the capabilities of children, burdening the children to fufill the parent’s unmet dreams, not respecting the child, attacking the self esteem of the child, not being approachable, being a very strict/harsh parent/teacher, humiliating the child especially in front of his peers, etc. are some of the  major contributors for this behaviour in normal children.

Adults should show the way for the kids by changing their own behaviour first after identifying the contributing factors. Once the adult changes, the child follows.
Having said this, sometimes children lie for no reason and there are no contributing factors. They may be just imitating someone or playing a game to see other’s reaction. This is just a passing phase and ignoring this phase is the best.

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