Using Parental Intelligence When Kids Lie: Ask, “What Does it Mean?”


Talking with a childAre you thrown when your kids lie? Sometimes they are little lies, like a three-year-old saying she brushed her teeth when she didn’t. Other times it’s about not actually doing a chore or more troubling, not handing in school assignments and saying all the work was done. What do you make of it?

How can you decide what to do it if you don’t understand it? First, ask yourself, “Why?”

Preschoolers Who Lie

When three- and four-year-olds lie, they often don’t feel like they’ve done something wrong because their sense of right and wrong isn’t well-developed. So as a mom you see the toys are left out and you ask your three-year-old to put them on the shelf. She says she will and you walk out of the room only to return and the job isn’t done even though the little one said she did it.

This is ego-centrism. She meant it when she said it as if agreeing was the deed in itself. She isn’t out to get you upset, she just went and did something else that occurred to her after your request.

This is an opportunity to teach right and wrong, but not time for a scolding until the child really gets what lying is all about.

So take the misdeed as an opportunity to teach. It takes longer, but it meets your aim. Remember, she isn’t quite ready to think about how you feel unless you tell her.

For example, you can tell your child that when she says she puts the toy on the shelf and doesn’t that’s called a lie. Sit with her while she does carry out the deed and ask her again if she did it and now when she says, “Yes,” you can praise her for telling the truth!

Alas, you may go through this many, many times until she gets it. It’s important to realize she’s not a “bad child” just a three-year-old who only thinks of herself.

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Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst and author who does psychotherapy with infants and parents, children, adolescents, and adults. Dr. Hollman’s new book: Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and She writes about infant, child and adolescent development, mental health, Parental Intelligence, and a broad range of parenting topics.


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