Age-by-Age Guide to Lying

What to Do When Older Kids Lie

School-Age and Big Kids (Ages 5 to 8)

Between the ages of 5 and 8, children will tell more lies to test what they can get away with, especially lies related to school -- classes, homework, teachers, and friends. Maintaining the lies may still be difficult, even though they are becoming better at concealing them. "The regulations and responsibilities of this age are often too much for children," Berger says. "As a result, children will often lie to appease the forces that seem to demand more performance than they can muster." But, thankfully, most lies ("We didn't get any reading homework today") are relatively easy to detect. Talk openly to your children and continue reading stories together, such as Be Honest and Tell the Truth by Cheri J. Meiners. Also, notice when a child is being honest and provide praise and positive feedback.

Most important, because school-age children are keen observers, continue to be good role models. Be careful about what reflexive lies you may be used to saying -- even something as small as "Tell them I'm not at home" when you are -- can send a very mixed message to a school-age child. "No matter how much you talk about the importance of honesty, you undermine the message if children see you being dishonest," Dr. Talwar says. For trickier situations, as when your child must offer thanks for a gift that she doesn't like, help her focus on the positive aspects of the gift. Explain to her, "I know you don't love your new sweater and it makes your neck itchy, but think about all the hours Grandma put into knitting it. That's the really special part about her gift and that's something you can honestly thank her for."

Tweens (Ages 9 to 12)

Most children this age are well on their way to establishing a hardworking, trustworthy, and conscientious identity. But they are also becoming more adept at maintaining lies and more sensitive to the repercussions of their actions, and they may have strong feelings of guilt after lying. Forthright and longer conversations about honesty are definitely necessary, as there will be rare "little white lie" moments when some dishonesty is acceptable in order to be polite or to spare another person's feelings. When situations like this arise, be straightforward with your child to avoid sending mixed messages. Start a conversation with, "You know how always telling your parents the truth is very important, right? Well, there are also times when it's important to be polite and not hurt another person's feelings. If we're visiting friends and they serve a lunch you don't like, it's not polite to make a big scene and refuse to eat. You should eat the food and say 'Thank you.' You're being a thoughtful guest who will get invited over to play again next time!"

Good role models are still crucial for your kids, so consider enlisting close family members or caring neighbors to guide your children through challenging social interactions. It's going to get harder before it gets easier, but there is a silver lining. "Children who have an established relationship with their parents, where they feel comfortable talking and disclosing information, are more likely to tell the truth," Dr. Talwar says. "But also realize that your children are not always going to tell you the truth. Taking a moment to think about why they are lying should help you respond to their lies appropriately."

Copyright © 2013 Meredith Corporation.

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