Lying is the intentionally supplying of false information. On the other hand, when a person says something that is untrue, that he actually believes to be true, he has made a mistake. In this case, he may be misguided or uninformed, but not lying.
A lot of what a child says begins in his imagination. He may imagine an action and tell others about it as though it has actually taken place. This is not considered lying in a deliberate sense. A child will visualize, dream, hope and fantasize while still lacking the cognitive and linguistic ability to distinguish between what is imaginary and what is real. For this reason, he is not taken as a liar, but rather a child. We have to understand that fantasy is a normal part of child development.
Although, it is also true that some children do intentionally tell lies and conceal the truth. This could have several causes: fear of power, craving for attention, or purely for entertainment.
Fear of Power:
A child who feels afraid or powerless may think that lying will gain him the approval of others or cause him to escape punishment. This is commonplace in homes where the parents are overly controlling and negative. The child gets no approval or affirmation from the family, and the only escape from what he perceives as prison, is to lie. This immediately will bring to mind the teen years, where lying about what, where, and with whom, are questions that are all subject to fabrication. But, we should realize that a pattern of lying will have been well established before adolescence if it is being used as an escape tactic so we need to identify it in the earliest stages.
Lying may help the child to acquire something that he could not otherwise have. A child who is starved of attention will lie to draw attention, particularly if he finds that his lies are accepted and believed. This type of lying often manifests itself in social interactions. No child wants to admit that he comes from a broken home, or that his financial condition is below standard. The pressures of our society force them to face the reality that we are not all considered equal in the public eye. Other factors as well influence a child, but peer pressure is a compelling force in a child’s behavior.
Intelligent children may lie in order to entertain themselves or others by playing jokes. “Is your refrigerator running? You’d better go catch it before it runs away.” Much of modern humor is based in exaggeration or stereotyping. What seems as harmless as childhood practical jokes can later lead to more serious deceitful behavior?
What is most important for parents to realize is that it is part of normal development for a child to lie. For most children this is a passing phase, a way of testing their limits, to see how far they can go before being caught. When it happens, we should step back and try to determine what the child’s goal is. If we identify the cause, we should be able to address those concerns, if any, and teach them alternative ways of expressing themselves, in an effort to avoid them developing a lifelong habit that will be difficult to control later. If you notice your child telling lies, keep the following tips in mind:
1. Do not be too lenient or too harsh with your child. Balance is important, as being extreme in either direction could have grave psychological and moral consequences even causing the child to become an impulsive liar.
2. Do not reprimand your child to an extreme if you catch him lying often. Never call him a liar, even if he does tell lies. One of the main goals of parenting is to reach a point at which your child knows right from wrong and is able to discipline himself. For this to work, in regard to lying, your child must feel that you trust him and that you expect the best of him. This is the greatest motivation for him to stop lying. This can be a symptom of lack of mutual respect in the parent-child relationship. If the child feels that they have to lie, they do not feel trusted or understood.
Lying is a way of avoiding the conflict between your perspective and theirs. If you catch the child lying, give him a way to explain himself that shows him you think well of him: “Perhaps you forgot” or “Maybe you did not pay attention.” When the child is treated this way, he will be ashamed to deceive those who trust him and will be motivated to tell the truth.
3. If your child comes and confesses to a behavior that calls for punishment and apologizes, it is best to forgive him. Praise his honesty as a reward. This is very difficult to do, but if you react too strongly, he will be fearful to admit his mistakes in the future. On the other hand, if you react with kindness and appreciation for his honesty, while reminding him of the seriousness of his mistake, he will feel respected and trusted, which will have a much more productive long-term outcome for your relationship, Insha`Allah.
4. The single most effective strategy for dealing with a child who lies is to model truth and honesty. Your child should never hear you lie in any way, shape or form. The following Hadeeth (Prophetic narration) underlines the importance of this: “The Prophet of Allah ﷺ saw a mother calling for her child to come and get something. The Prophet ﷺ asked her what she would give her child and she told him. He ﷺ told her. ‘If you do not give it to him, you will have committed the sin of lying.’” [Abu Daawood and Al-Bayhaqi]
While it is never pleasant to discover that you have been lied to, it is a fact of life for many parents. Sometimes it is no more than a passing phase, but how we deal with it could determine the outcome. As with all aspects of life, the best way to teach your child is through your own example. When you discover that the cashier gave you too much change, let your child see you return the money. It is small, seemingly insignificant actions and words that come together to build your child’s ideal. Your best tool is prevention, by being the best Muslim you can use each and every day investing in your relationship with your child.