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It's natural to get upset when you catch your kindergartner lying, and you may worry that it reflects badly on you. Rest assured, though, that it's developmentally normal for a 5-year-old to lie or make up stories from time to time, and that other parents share the same experience. So don't get into a huge struggle over your youngster's truthfulness just yet.
Let's say you saw your kindergartner spill her juice, but she claims, "I didn't do it!" A 5-year-old naturally wishes she hadn't made a mess, and she doesn't want to get in trouble. Don't focus on the fact that she's lying when she denies responsibility. Instead, focus on solving the problem at hand. Give her a paper towel and say, "Let's clean up the juice." This way, you avoid getting into a battle about who spilled the juice, and you turn your kindergartner's attention toward the issue of getting the mess cleaned up.
If she does something wrong and then actually admits it, on the other hand, be sure to praise her for being honest in a difficult situation. This is an important tactic, because it encourages her to keep telling the truth in the future.
You may also think that it's lying when your child makes up stories that obviously aren't true. He might declare, for instance, "I saw an elephant at school today, a real one!" Unless he's making up hurtful stories about others, this shouldn't be considered lying. In fact, it's wise to encourage your kindergartner's imagination by asking him to give you more details. You can even sit down together and have him draw pictures to illustrate his tall tale.
Some untruths, of course, are less innocent. For instance, your 5-year-old may come to you and, without batting an eye, say, "I haven't watched any TV today — can I watch one show?" When you check with your partner, though, you discover that your kindergartner has in fact already used up his TV quota for the day. As frustrating as it may be, keep in mind that even this kind of manipulative truth-stretching is normal, since 5-year-olds are knee-deep in testing parental boundaries and their own power. If you consistently give consequences (banning TV-viewing the next day, say) and continue setting a good example, he'll eventually learn that trying to pull the wool over your eyes just isn't worth it.
To discourage future lying, start talking about why lies are bad. When you catch your kindergartner lying, explain why a lie is hurtful and how it breaks down trust. Keep in mind that you won't have much of a dialogue with a child this age — you'll be doing most of the talking — but it's good to get into the habit of discussing these issues anyway. In another year or two, you'll be able to have more fruitful conversations. You can also read children's stories that deal with the issue of honesty. Some good ones for this age group are Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire, by Diane DeGroat; Ruthie and the (Not So) Teeny tiny Lie, by Laura Rankin; and Arthur and the True Francine, by Marc Brown. And of course, the best way to teach your kindergartner honesty is to be honest yourself.