As a child therapist I often have parents express their concern about their young child lying. This 'lying' can take on many forms, and there is nothing that we can say 'in general' about lying, We have to look at very concrete examples to explore why the child might be lying.
However, when the child is still quite young, what parents perceive as lies are often just fantasies, myths, inventions. There is no point in treating these fantasies as lies and in reprimanding the child for them. These are poetic inventions originating from the child's imaginary. Children, just like adults need this poetic dimension in life: As we have so little power, are so limited in our human lives, we like to imagine ourselves capable of realizing what we cannot do or have. Those fantasies have the same status as an adult reading a novel, or watching a TV show: they are not true, but they are important in our lives. Reprimanding a child for these kinds of fantasies would be the same as reprimanding someone to read a novel, because why would you read something that is not 'real.'
It could also be that the child tells a lie to contradict or get a rise out of the parent. Maybe the child has never had the ability to contradict the parent in play, in a 'pretend mode?' Better to treat these lies with a sense of humor. The child might be tricking the parent, enjoying the power of not complying with the parent, having his own little secret the parent does not know about...In any case, it is always important to explore why the child thinks lying is so fun. It is crucial to try to understand where the child is coming from, rather than get upset and angry with her, as this is counterproductive. This is especially the case if the child tells a lie to get out of trouble.
Children often lie when they feel guilty. Forcing the child to admit that he or she did the wrong thing, for example by saying: 'You won't get in trouble if you admit it,' misses the point. If a child did something harmful or hurt another child the goal would be for him or her to be able to take responsibility for this act. Rather than forcing the child to admit the truth, you will move him more towards being able to take responsibility, according to Dolto, by talking to him like this: 'These are your hands, and your feet, but it was not you who wanted to hit the child; I know that sometimes the hands and the feet do things, that the head does not want them to do.' You are more likely to move the child towards taking responsibility like that.
When a child is not able to take responsibility for his act that is fine. This cannot be forced, better to talk, and dialogue about it. In this case Dolto mentions the following possible interaction:
Parent: 'I see that you are too ashamed to admit. You are right, but please, don't do this again.'
Child: 'But I did not do it!'
Parent: 'I believe you. What is done is done. Let's not talk about it anymore, but know that even if you did it, I love you and I trust you: and if you did not do it, please excuse me for having suspected you.'
I agree with Dolto that this is a better solution than creating a big drama.
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