With Washington's birthday here, parents frequently ask me whether they should worry about their child telling lies. Since I don't want to fib about this issue, this week let me reveal the truth about kids who lie.
All children will lie at some time or another -- such as when they say, "I didn't break the window" when they did, or "I did wash my hands" when they didn't -- and thus telling a lie is a normal phase of a child's development. Children lie for different reasons -- perhaps due to a preschooler's active imagination, unrealistic expectations being placed on a school-age child to cover-up guilt and avoid punishment, or a teenager's need to protect privacy or gain acceptance from peers.
It's important not to ignore the situation, but on the other hand, you do not want to berate or label your child negatively when they do lie, or they'll just lie all the more to escape the negativity and the punishments that surround lying. Instead try to figure out why your child is lying so you can deal with that issue rather than the lie itself.
Instead of asking, "who broke the vase?" you might say, "Are you afraid I'd get angry that the vase is broken?" If the question makes the child feel like a participant and not part of the inquisition, then you can have a dialogue about the consequences of the actions. In fact, allowing your child to verbalize the mistake and apologize for it may be all it takes to prevent further lying from occurring.
Later that night, during a bedtime discussion when your child has your undivided attention and you have theirs, you can calmly discuss the situation and reiterate the values you stand by -- including that it is very important to always tell the truth.
Parents, please don't send the message that lying is acceptable should you be caught unintentionally by your child telling a lie. Even a white lie can be confusing to your children, so explain your reasons for lying or apologize to your child for doing it, or they'll believe it's an acceptable behavior.
If you feel your child is lying excessively, please talk about this with your child's doctor, who may recommend further counseling to help you and your child deal with this much rarer situation.
Hopefully tips like this will lie well with you and your child when it comes to dealing with your child's lying.
Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch "First with Kids" weekly on WOKO 98.9 FM and WCAX-TV Channel 3. Visit the First with Kids archives at www.vermontchildrens.org.