Children are supposed to be innocent. You appreciate their gentle nature, sweet smiles and generosity but then comes their first lie. It stuns you since you know your child is so young and you can see how obvious the lie is.
If your child is young, you should not be worried. Your young one isn’t doing it with the intention of doing something evil. Young children do not know what they are doing is wrong. In fact, a pre-schooler might have even forgotten what really happened, and that is why you think they are lying. Or they are internally upset at what happened because they know you will be upset so they lie to push that feeling away. Small children aim to please their parents.
The most important thing to remember is not to become angry and accusatory. Naturally you don’t want your child making a habit out of lying, but you must be gentle when facing your child. Elizabeth Berger, a child psychiatrist and author of Raising Kids With Character says: “If a 2-year-old pulls the cat’s tail and says that her imaginary friend did it, the best response is to say, ‘The cat has feelings too’, don’t get into a wrangle to get the child to admit that she was the one.”[i]
Experts advise that instead of coming toward your child with “I know you’re lying,” parents should focus on the incident. Labels such as “liar,” often become absorbed faster than a lesson, and soon you might see your child using it on someone else. A parent should identify the problem: “Oh look, the keys are missing. I wonder where they are.”
Some older children enjoy weaving long stories with characters and lives that sometimes mimic their own. This is a sign of creativity and a healthy imagination. In fact some pre-schoolers enjoy telling tales of a fantasy life where everything goes their way. “If a child seems happy and has realistic relationships with the important people in his life, I would not be worried about his fantasizing. That’s what children did before there was TV,” Berger says.
A child’s age is also a big factor in how you, as a parent, should handle the situation. A child younger than 3 is probably incapable of telling a lie on purpose. But a pre-schooler – kids aged 4 and up – are now starting to understand how to manoeuvre themselves in social situations.
In Islam lying is considered one of the greater sins. Our Holy Imams teach us to refrain from even small lies, since they usually lead to bigger lies. We are even taught to refrain from lying to our children, since they will eventually get older and get used to lying as well.
It can be frustrating to watch a child lie, especially when you take great care in refraining from lying yourself. Author Tahera Kassamali gives good tips on disciplining children in the book, Raising Children.
When disciplining a child, the parent should refrain from becoming a dictator, Kassamali says: “A rule is not to be followed because ‘I say so’ but because it is the right thing to do”.
“The basis of all discipline is the safety and progress of the child. Talk to your children often about why you set rules and enforce certain laws.” Even though lying is a big sin, a young child should not be punished for lying, since they are still not yet mature enough to understand the concept of lying and what it means.
We should be careful that our children do not begin to fear us as parents. It is easy to lose our cool but keeping a calm demeanour lets our children know that they can always come to us with any problem. Giving room for your child to explain what they did and then gently outlining the consequences and/or punishment helps the child to understand instead of resent.
It is in a parent’s best interest to model good behaviour in front of their children so that child rearing is easier instead of problematic. If we as parents often tell small white lies, or fibs, then our children will see that behaviour as acceptable. We should take parenting as a hidden way of God helping us reform ourselves, because once we see actions we dislike in our children, we will more likely refrain from such actions as adults.