"I Didn't Do It!"

Tackle the motive behind the lie.

Posted Mar 26, 2013

You walk into your four year old's bedroom and discover that he has scribbled a crayon mural on the wall. “Did you do this?” you ask, trying to stay calm. You have caught your little angel red, yellow, and green handed, yet he shakes his head, looks you in the eye and says, “I didn't do it!”

Often a child's lie has to do with covering up for a misdeed (even when it is obvious she is the culprit.) The reason for this is simple, yet powerful. Your youngster wants to be good so you will love her. There is actually some positive growth to this behavior. She is showing you that she is internalizing your rules and is aware she made a mistake. Developmentally, she starts by seeking your approval and as she grows, the wish to do the right thing becomes her own and she makes the right choices. As children mature and are increasingly savvy in in their ability to manipulate situations, the lies they tell will be more calculated. Your sophisticated nine year old might tell you, “I did my homework already”, because she wants to watch her favorite TV show. When you scratch beneath the surface, the underlying motives are often the same. She wants to maintain your love and acceptance.

It is only over time that your youngster will learn that he can admit his mistakes and you will still love him and he does not have to lie to be valued. Furthermore, when he is open about a mistake, you will be there to help him solve the problem. You can assist him by teaching him through your actions and words that honesty is the best policy. Here are some guidelines.

Avoid inquisitions. When your child is clearly lying, questioning her further or forcing her to confess can cause her to dig in her heels. Rather than asking, “Did you do it?” and starting an unnecessary battle, describe what you observe. For example, “I can see you've been playing ball and you broke the lamp.”

Repeat the rules. Getting your child to change the problematic behavior and follow the rules should be your primary focus. Rather than launching into a battle about the lying, deal with the behavior first. For instance, “ You need to draw on paper, not the walls.” Then give him an objective explanation: “It's our job to take good care of our house.”

Tackle the motive behind the lie. Once you have addressed the rule, talk about the motive for the lie directly. “I think you were afraid that I would get angry and that is why you did not tell me you knocked down the plant.” Then, encourage her to be straightforward and reassure her of your love. For instance you can say, “I might not be happy about what you did, but I will always love you. When you tell me about a problem, I can help you to fix it.” Such statements create an environment in which your child feels safe enough to tell the truth.

Find a way for your child to fix his mistake. If he spills the juice, for example, let him help you wipe it up with paper towels.

Above all, if you are able to forgive your child's mistakes and demonstrate an openness to discussing problems, your child will feel secure and have less of a need to lie as she grows.

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