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Telling lies, no mama

Telling lies, no mama

It is always shocking to hear big lies coming out of small mouths. If a child tells lies frequently, the first thing that needs to be done is to find out the cause, because at different ages, children can have different reasons for lying.

Young children have a very fertile imagination and spin out fantastic tales in order to impress others. A young cricket fan might consider himself a reincarnation of Shahid Khan Afridi and brag about his fictitious cricketing exploits to his friends. A cartoon buff might like to think himself as the new Ben10 with a watch that can transform him into a million superheroes and talk about defeating aliens as if they really exist.

Some may invent scenarios to try to get sympathy, attention and the interest of adults around them. Kindergarten teachers get to hear many such stories like ‘A big dog bit my arm yesterday’ or ‘Aliens took away my little sister’ or ‘I could not do the homework because my eyeballs popped out of my head!’

Other children might tell lies because they are ashamed of something they might have done and worry about how others would react.

Even two or three-year-olds are capable of lying when asked about a broken toy or dirty diaper or scribbling on the wall because they understand that they have done something naughty and a scold is not too far away.

Then there are older children who are unable to handle the pressure being exerted on them to excel in school, sports or extra-curricular activities. The expectations of parents are so high that they find it easier to lie about their achievements or grades than to conform to those ideals. Sometimes, when a child’s school report is less than satisfactory, it causes friction between parents and children feel guilty about this so they tell lies to avoid trouble in the house.

A more worrying reason is when children suffer from inferiority complex. Their low self-esteem prompts them to fabricate or exaggerate about things at home in order to impress others or fit in with their school friends.

But the most common reason for children telling lies is to get their own way or escape punishment from their teachers and parents. From a very early age, children learn to use lies to find a way out of trouble and if unchecked, they can perfect this strategy as they grow older.

How to handle deliberate lies

Psychologists say that there are two major reasons why people lie. One is fear … fear of what others will think, fear of facing the reality and fear of facing the consequences of their actions. The other major reason is manipulation and wanting to get their own way.

Create an environment in the house where children are not afraid to own up to mistakes and are always ready to tell the truth. If parents react angrily to every broken glass, spilled milk or other transgression, children will be afraid to take them into confidence.

Anger, disapproval, shouting and constant nagging make children very uncomfortable so it is best not to blow things out of proportion.

If parents are insecure about their financial or social position, they transfer these fears to their children. The children feel that their peers will make fun of them if they are not affluent and hence they tell lies. It is important for parents and adults in the house to give the children a sense of security and boost their self-esteem.

To counter manipulation, if you catch your child telling a blatant lie, tell them that you know they are not being honest. Children must be made aware from a young age that it is wrong to tell lies. Make sure they understand that if they tell lies, nobody will be able to trust them in the future and this could jeopardise their relationship with teachers, friends and family members.

Always appreciate their honesty. Let them know that you value strength of character more than anything else. If children know that they can discuss issues and problems with their parents in an atmosphere free of guilt, disapproval and anger, they will have no need to tell lies. Do not humiliate children or call them liars in front of others.

Avoid confrontational questions such as ‘Did you hit your sister?’, ‘Who broke the glass?’, ‘Did you finish your work before watching TV?’ etc. Instead ask questions like ‘Do you know why your sister is crying?’ ‘Any idea who broke the glass?’ ‘I hope nobody got hurt?’ ‘Let me know when you finish your work and then you can watch TV.’

And of course, parents always have to be good role models. Many parents do not think twice before telling a neighbour they are out of eggs or sugar when this is not true, or lying about children’s ages to avoid buying tickets or using the classic ‘say I am not at home’ line. This sends a wrong message to the children that it is okay to lie to suit your purpose.

The habit of telling lies can develop into a very destructive personality trait if it is not nipped in the bud. Hence, it is very important to handle this issue firmly and intelligently.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, March 20th, 2016

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