A couple of weeks ago, I eavesdropped a mother narrating a worrisome story about her eight-year-old son. According to the mother, the boy has been a serial liar that it had become so hard for the parents to know when he is being truthful or when he is lying.
One day, the boy comes home from school without shoes or socks. Instead of telling his mother about it, he just waits for her to find out the following morning when he was dressing up for school. When asked about what happened to the shoes, the boy says one of them fell into the latrine at school, so he decided to leave the second one at school too.
“When I told his father, he did not believe the story, saying our son could have sold the shoes. Much as I was heartbroken by the fact that his father thought he was capable of this level of deceit, I sometimes find myself believing he could have sold the shoes. He has stuck to his story which he tells with a straight face. I want to believe him but I also do not want to hear his dad say ‘I told you so’ as he often does,” the distraught mother confided to her friends.
All children lie at some point in their lives. Many of us recall the first time we were caught telling lies and the consequences that followed. However, what distinguishes us is whether we were shaken enough to never lie again or we decided to up our game and become first-rate liars.
Fear makes children lie
Child development experts say the biggest reason children lie is fear. They are afraid of admitting doing wrong because of the negative consequences such as disapproval, shame and punishment. Others lie because they have low esteem and want to cover up what they consider their inadequacies.
Sylivia Kwesiga, a teacher, recounts a story of a child who used to claim her mother was the family’s maid because whenever she took her to school, they would use boda bodas. She decided to adopt her uncle’s family that used to drop her off because they were rich.
Uncover the hidden truth
“As an educator, you can tell when a child is making up stories and try to uncover the hidden truth. Once you know why, you are able to help. For instance, when I found out that a pupil had this problem, I started pointing out her strengths that did not have anything to do with her background. With time, she stopped making up stories about her life and focused on doing her best in class. She no longer tells lies,” Kwesiga relates.
She notes, however, that some children tell lies because they are too young to know the difference. “If you are dealing with children as young as two or three years old, you should be ready to hear some outrageous stories. While the stories are not true, they are not deliberate lies either. They are just fantasies and wishful thinking not intended to deceive, which they eventually outgrow,” the teacher reassures. Child psychologist Evelyne Kharono Lufafa advises parents to deal with the lying habit as early as possible because if not eliminated, it becomes part of the individual’s character. “Lying is caused by irrational fear of facing the truth and what others will think about us. The longer we cover up the truth the more lies become part of our lifestyle,” Kharono notes.
Weakness of character
When older children lie, they are showing a weakness of character; not willing to take the responsibility and blame for their actions. As a parent, calmly explain to your child why this is a despicable way of living and teach them the importance of always being truthful.
“Do not wait for your child to tell lies to start discussing the importance of truth and consequences of being dishonest. Once you have identified potential reasons for your child’s behaviour, encourage them to talk about their worries by calmly raising the issue in a supportive and warm manner. Use examples of people whether in folklore or in the news to show them the consequences of dishonesty. This should be done in a relaxed and calm manner to encourage discussion and thus deeper learning,” she advises.
Be a role model
Children learn by observation. As a parent, be a good role model. Do not lie to your children or lie in their presence because even the best-intentioned lie is harmful.
Kharono caution parents against calling children liars because negative labels affect self-esteem and lead to self-confirming behaviour.
“If a child has told lies in the past, help them overcome that incident without causing so much distress. And when they are honest, do not forget to praise them. This encourages them to trust you enough to tell you truth next time,” she advises.
How to tell your child is lying
Long pauses, hesitation
Wringing their hands or squirming while telling their story.
Changing the topic or offering irrelevant information when put on the spot
Higher than normal vocal pitch
Lack of natural silence or pausing, talking faster than usual
Stuttering not present in normal speech
Avoiding eye contact
Creating physical distance