To understand why most all young children at some time tell lies, it is important to be aware that children and adults have very different perceptions of what it means to tell a lie. To an adult, lying usually means the deliberate telling of a falsehood. In a young child, however, saying something untruthful is a much more complex phenomenon.
By age four or five, children are beginning to have a better grasp of the difference between reality and fantasy, but they don’t yet understand the concept of lying in an adult manner. When they do something wrong, they consider that action to be more serious than the telling of a lie.
Furthermore, they may believe if they confess, the parent or adult will think they are a “bad person.” They cannot yet distinguish in their minds the difference between a “bad deed” and a “bad person.” Sometimes children will lie because of an overwhelming fear of what the consequences of their action might be. Their anxiety will show in their body language, such as shifting from one foot to another, avoiding eye contact, or biting their lips.
What to do?
Even though a child’s lying, for whatever reason, can greatly upset a parent, it is best to remain calm. Try to figure out why the child may not be telling the truth. Above all, resist the temptation to try to “scare” the truth out of the child with harsh or severe punishment. This will only make the child more fearful. A child who is afraid of being punished will choose to lie rather than risk arousing a parent’s anger. He will be more truthful if he learns from experience that his honesty will be respected — and sometimes even rewarded.