“I swear I didn’t steal any sugar,” said little Nzinza with evidence all over his mouth. For Nzinza, lying had gotten to the point where even when caught in the act; he’d still go ahead with it. So, what do you do when your little munchkin spins stories at a worrying rate?
Some people say kids don’t lie. Others say they do but only when they have to. Others say if they do, there is still a bit of truth to it. Which is it? Mutoni (not real name) is a child who has, what I call, an imagination gone wild.
Okay, so you all understand imaginary friends, right? But this child took her imagination to another level - giving anyone who cared to listen a glimpse into her imaginary life! She works extremely hard to captivate her audience.
I’m guessing she didn’t want to be left out of an adult conversation and therefore took a shot whenever an opportunity presented itself. If she’s not talking about the vacations she’s had in Hawaii, it’s the two Chihuahuas’ and one bulldog she has at home. Did I mention she’s only seven? Quite the entertainer that one, even if it means making up stories!
With some children, rivalry forces them to twist words or omit certain truths. So some lies are designed to make sure that the child will be seen as adequate. “When my daughter Gabriella found out that her friend’s dad had bought her a Barbie set from the US, she also told other girls that I was going to do the same,” said Sandra Uwase, a working mother of 1.
Children will also lie when asked to report on the completion of a task. My own 7 year old always finds a lie to feed you if she hasn’t completed a given task. She has excuses ranging from, I didn’t hear you or I was helping the maid to something as ridiculous as her ears were hurting!
With kids, they also have that moment when they feel they really want something but no one will quite understand just how much they want it. So just like little Nzinza, rather than face the need, they will find ways of silently getting it.
The most common lies are the ones where a child won’t accept responsibility. They are also the hardest ones for us to deal with. When a child does something beyond reasonable limits, we know they did it, and want them to admit it. This is not only infuriating but also frightening as we worry about the kind of person the child will be when they grow up.
The simple truth is that children live for our love and approval. And so when they do something they are sure will leave us disappointed, they would rather deny the act than own up to it. And can you blame them; our own adult standards of truth are actually quite inconsistent too.
A good first step for a parent is to think about the bigger picture. Yes, sugar is all over the floor, and the child is standing there with sticky hands, swearing they didn’t do it. They need firm limits set with warmth to help them admit to a wrong doing as opposed to austerity.
Also, don’t expect a child to snitch on himself/herself when you are all set to get angry. So asking questions like ‘who did this’ or ‘did you finish your homework’ when you already know the answer simply won’t do and will only disappoint you, because, backed into an impossible corner, a child will lie.
Eventually, the effort to connect will pay off. They’ll feel understood better, safe and loved. They will feel more confident to come to you if/when a problem arises rather than lie about how they feel or what happened.