Meaningful Parenting- Did your child lie to you today?

Preschooler, Elementary school going child, middle school children or high school teenagers---------It really doesn't matter. Lying happens. To us and to them.

The issue of moral development in children extensively researches in the field of Child psychology. It's natural for you to feel upset when you find your preschooler lying to us. You feel that it reflects badly and that you are not bringing him up the right way. But do you need to get distressed over your child’s ‘truthfulness’ yet? No. It’s too early.

Imagination-----You have to differentiate between his actual lying and his imagination. For example- My son often cooks up these stories about how a dinosaur came in his class and all his friends fought them. Many such stories I hear every day, from bugs to cockroaches to lions to dinosaurs. I am glad his imagination is doing the job well. Preschoolers observe the world around them keenly and ‘creative play’, ‘pretend and play’, ‘imaginative story making’ is all part of absorbing all this information and trying to make some sense out of it.
With preschoolers, they don’t see an object just the way it is. They combine and relate. A stick can become a sword or an elephant trunk. My son often comes up with alphabets when he is munching on his sandwich - “Mamma, see, I took a bite like this and now this looks like a W.” Imagination is good.
But if he comes up with an emotional story about his friend or something serious about what a teacher said, deal with it gently. Probe further to get to know the issue better.

Lying-------- I am a cleanliness freak and somehow my 4-year-old understand it and show some amazing hygiene and organizing behaviors. For the most part, he is a careful child when he is drinking or eating but accidents do happen. The juice gets spilt, small sapling gets trampled on in the garden, hands are not washed after a pee so on and so forth.
I asked him the other day, “Did you wash your hands after the pee?”. ‘Yes, I did,’ pat came the reply. I knew he was lying. I had seen him pee and dash out of the bathroom without washing his hands. I was aghast. Without making it a big moral issue, I thought for a while and then let it go. He was so busy playing Thomas train with his friend. Later, that night I didn't ask the question. Amid our usual cuddle talk I told him how important hygiene habits are and how honesty is ‘awesome’. (He relates to the word awesome just the way awesome is.) J

The next day I saw him washing his hands. Another day he had again missed. It’s all normal part of having a preschooler around. But he did lie. And why? Children do lie and why?

There are four aspects to this.

Acceptance - Humans seek acceptance. It's a feeling elemental to human being and the child is no exception. Acceptance is nice and acceptance is sought. It's a wonderful feeling to know that ‘Me and my feelings’ are accepted. The moment this feeling is threatened, we resort to lying to gain acceptance and avoid punishment.

Threat and Punishment-Enough research has been done, which consistently proves that yelling, slapping, spanking is INEFFECTIVE disciplinary tactics. It only creates an unpleasant feeling within the child and interrupts the warm, loving relationship that he shares with his parent. Therefore, to avoid punishment, he lies.

Reinforcement - Every time he falters somewhere, the parents react to the incident with a reprimand, scolding and more of it.  It further reinforces in him that if he lied, he will escape all these negative consequences.

Modeling-You want an honest child? Be an honest parent. Modeling is prevalent almost for all aspects of child development. He will observe the adult around him- his parents and imitate them. If the parents demonstrate positive, appropriate behaviors, the child gets to learn the same. And once the child acquires a rightful act of being truthful, the parents need to then reinforce this positive behavior by being appreciative of the act, approval, affection and other rewards (In the field of psychology this falls under the category of Operant Conditioning propagated by Edward Thorndike and BF Skinner).
Be the support ....and strengthen  his roots...

For preschoolers try to avoid punishment and reinforce positive behavior when one occurs. Talking and explaining them about lying and how it breaks trust is also important. Though it would be more of a one-sided communication where the parent would be doing most of the talking and the preschooler might not be able to comprehend all that the parent says. Nonetheless, consistency is the key around a warm loving environment. It's good to get into the habit of discussing these issues anyway and try it in a way they can relate to and understand. For example- I saw you didn’t wash your hand. But I understand, you were so eager to get back to playing. Next time, remember to wash your hand.” For a preschooler, it's not great to attack him with a tag- ‘you lied to me.’ The explanation of the situation, getting down to his level and explaining to him the episode is the best possible effort here.

For school going children and older ones, most of the answers lies in ‘acceptance, punishment reinforcement and modeling’.
Have a look at these examples-----------------"I use to see my father often lie to his manager and makeup stories to take a day off. For me it was normal. I learnt that. I also learnt that he will never approve my going to a movie with my friends. So, I lied to him and told him we were going out at a friend's house for group study. Though I never understood what’s so wrong in going out for a movie with friends?
Yes, I messed it up at school. I got really bad marks and knew my father would be flared. So, I hid the test paper and told him that the teacher hasn't given it to us yet. "

Accepting your child, his feelings at every stage is the most crucial aspect. A teenager is going through his own turmoil and hubbub. As a parent, if you are to become enraged, he will never tell you the truth. You have to be accepting of him, his flaws and his feelings. Only then can he trust you, he can share with you. It is obvious he will lie to you to avoid punishment.

Your little child use to come home and share everything that happened at school. You use to love his syrupy talks and smile back. Later, when he grows up, he comes again and tells you about a whole lot of new things that happened and some not so what you expect- what do you do? You raise your eyebrow. Your voice gets raised too. Another time he lands up sharing something which you as a parent don't approve of. Something that is highly objectionable in your perspective, what do you do then? You scold. You reprimand. Resort to criticism and threat. You do all this except for trying to get down to his age and his perspective. Will he come and share with you the next time? No. He just learnt what brings a smile to your face and what brings a frown and he starts lying.

Why do we become so unaccepting- We have all been there when we were a child or a teenager? We know how it feels. We are aware of the temptations and tribulations. Hormones play a different level game altogether. We know it far too well. But when it comes to our children, we become the moral ethical guardians and the world becomes ‘black and white’. Just try it differently.
If you were to accept all that he ‘shares’ he would continue being honest with you. Acceptance doesn't necessarily mean approval. It's as simple as this- you can disapprove of the act or behavior without becoming unaccepting of the child. As a parent, we need to accept that our child did something wrong. But that doesn't make him a bad child and does not warrant criticism and punishment. You accept that all kinds of things will happen to your child. Your role is to accept and then guide. You can explain him, guide him only when there is a warm, loving, trusting environment between the parents and the child. The lecture is boring. Any explanation without reasoning is 'LECTURE' and nobody is interested. With older children or adults, reasoning helps. For preschoolers, it may not make any sense, but for older children, it's the only thing that may help. They seek logic, rationality and our job as a parent is to provide one.

Conducive Environment-Not to forget that any constructive talk happens when the environment is calm and the person is in a receptive mode. Take for example the following-

If you found out that your son has been fibbing about his marks, what do you do? Scold? Criticize? Hit? Abuse? In such an unpleasant environment will any productive discussion happen? NO. First, you need to calm yourself and the child. Let the storm subside. The event has happened. There is not much you can do. You can only offer support and explanation which will reduce the probability of that incident happening again.


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