Liar, liar, pants on fire

Years ago, when my son was small, we began to realize that he was telling lies. He hadn’t done something wrong and wasn’t trying to get out of dealing with the consequences. He wasn’t boasting or trying to make himself seem more important than he was. He simply had an active imagination, and did not think of what he was doing as lying. When he realized that adults believed many of the stories that he told, he would make them more elaborate. He had a babysitter who was convinced that our house was haunted by someone who died in the house more than 100 years ago, even though our house was only about 50 years old. She wouldn’t come back until I promised her that he had just been making up stories and proved that the house wasn’t as old as she thought. It wasn’t until several years ago that I realized that this story had its origin in one that was told about a nearby house where someone died during the Civil War. I’m guessing he heard someone tell that story, applied it to our house, and as he realized that the babysitter believed him, he elaborated the tale.

The problem was that many adults were upset by the fact that this child could make a believable story and that they were taken in by his ability to tell a tale. It was difficult to explain to a five-year-old why he shouldn’t do this, especially when he realized that the stories we were reading to him were all made up. What was the difference? The point was, of course, that the adults were taken in by his stories and for him, that was the point, he loved being able to do that.

We tried to get across to him that it wasn’t fair to fool people and that they didn’t like it when he did that. We tried to get him to laugh and admit what he had done or make the story plainly fanciful when he realized that the adults believed him, but he loved the power that he had over others. I was very concerned that in trying to get him to understand that people saw his storytelling as lying, that we would shut him down and crush his imagination. He has always been a good storyteller, and recently, he has begun to write stories. I hope that he will be able to share these stories with the world, but at the least, he has learned to tell tales in such a way that the world knows they are coming from his imagination.

In the process of getting him to understand that lying of any kind was unacceptable, he did learn not to lie to get out of trouble or to make himself seem more important. As a matter of fact, he is fierce about not lying and will not accept it in others. In part, he learned that lesson because he grew up around people who valued the truth in all things. That is one of the basic ways to help children learn not to lie according to this post on the VeryWellFamily web site, “10 Steps to Stop a Child From Lying.”

The problem at the moment is what do we do when children hear adults lying or, at the very least, accusing others of lying? The way to deal with this is to help your child sort out the evidence that is used to support beliefs. If the only support is “well, everyone knows that….” or “I saw it on Facebook,” you need to point out that is not sufficient verification to believe that statement. It’s very important to know the evidence that supports the truth or the lack of evidence that exposes the lie. We kept trying to get our son to focus on the facts – what do you know, how do you know it, and who else supports these statements?

Simply saying that what you believe is true or not true is not enough, you must be able to point to the evidence. OK, so I am a science teacher and I’m always telling my students that they need evidence to support their statements, that without evidence, opinions have no validity. Help your child go to the Internet and look up the facts. These days, that may not sufficient since there are sources that are based on lies, and it is hard to figure out who is telling the truth.

And this is the real lesson that your child needs to learn – who do you believe? How can you tell when someone is telling lies? The point is to learn to check the facts, don’t believe anyone until you have had the opportunity to check out what they have said as well as what the other side has said as well. That is pretty cynical, I know, but in this day and age it is important to figure out what and who you can believe. That means that you had better be very careful about what you say to your child. There is no problem in saying that you are not sure of your facts and that you need to double check what you believe. That will help your child learn to do the same.

Why do we need to talk about helping your child learn to manage the truth? Research says that boys are more likely to tell blatant lies and that girls are more likely to tell social lies. For some reason, telling someone that she doesn’t look bad in that outfit is not considered as bad as telling someone that you won a game when you didn’t. There are ways to be tactful about the outfit without actually telling a lie, but all children need to learn to be truthful. In the long run, it helps us all get along when we can trust what others say.