Is there anything more frustrating than your children lying to you? They’re standing right there, telling you a story that you KNOW just isn’t true. Ugh.

“I didn’t do it”, they say…despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. And you can’t help but think ‘where did I go wrong?’

First off, know that if your child lies it’s not the end of the world. Children lying is totally normal behavior.

All kids, and adults for that matter, are going to lie at some point.

And while it’s natural for you to feel confused, angry, betrayed, or hurt when you catch your child lying to you, acting out on those feelings by yelling, shaming, or punishing won’t resolve the issue.

In reality children lying is usually an attempt at problem-solving, though not a good one.

And one of our jobs as parents is to teach and model more constructive problem-solving methods to our kids. So your children lying provides you a prime opportunity to do just that!

 

The first step to helping a child be more honest is to understand why they’re lying in the first place.

 

Once you get past your initial emotional reaction, you’ll oftentimes find why children lie makes a twisted sort of sense.

Kids don’t make things up for no reason, there’s always a motive behind the fib.

When you figure out what that motive is, you can come up with alternate ways to handle the situation that don’t involve bending the truth.

 

Children lying
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Causes Of Children Lying:

There are a number of reasons a child lies. Five of the most common reasons kids lie include:

 

1. To Get Attention

This can be particularly true for younger children. A child lying for attention may tell fanciful stories about seeing the easter bunny in the garden or a fairy out the window.

These types of lies are a harmless and a normal part of development.

Young kids make up stories during playtime to flex their newfound creativity and developing imaginations. It’s a way for them to make sense of the world.

Kids grow out of this fanciful phase in time, so enjoy the “make believe” while it lasts.

An older child who feels ignored or neglected may also lie or engage in other negative behaviors to get attention.

This type of attention seeking behavior is not harmless and should be addressed.

 

2. To Avoid Trouble

Children lying is sometimes a way to hide something they know they’ve done wrong.

Related: Getting Kids To Listen, It’s Possible We Swear!

Your child is attempting to avoid the negative consequences or disapproval they anticipate coming from you for doing something “bad”.

 

3. To Get Around The Rules

Children lying may also be a tactic to get around rules they find inconvenient or too strict.

If they lie about things like finishing their homework before TV, or not wearing makeup to school, this is likely why.

 

4. To Impress

Kids with low self esteem may brag or exaggerate to impress others and be liked by the group.

Kids who feel insecure may also concoct stories to get an adult’s attention.

 

5. To Avoid Hurting Someone

Adults aren’t the only ones that tell “little white lies”, children do too.

Kids haven’t developed the nuanced language to say things without being hurtful, so a child may lie in an attempt to be careful.

Related: Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child

When you think about it, paying attention to other people’s feelings isn’t a bad thing. This type of lie tends to be more on the harmless side.

You can help your child develop the sophistication to respond truthfully (but not hurtfully) over time.

 

Finding The Truth:

How do you steer your kids away from making up stories and back to the truth?

 

Most child psychologists advise parents not to threaten lying children with punishment. In their experience, increasing the threat of punishment only makes your kids better and more frequent liars.

 

A child lies in an attempt to solve a perceived problem. Children lying is a faulty survival skill.

Your real job is to determine the type of lie told and why the child is telling it. Depending on the situation, you may choose to ignore it (particularly with younger kids telling fanciful lies), or address it from a problem solving stance.

One important thing to note – if your child is lying about hurting themselves or others, or some type of abuse or risky behavior, then you should consider seeking professional help to ensure their wellbeing and the safety of others.

children lying
Getty Images

 

7 Ways Parents Can Encourage Honesty

 

1. Be Calm and Don’t Demand A Confession

In other words, don’t question a behavior if you already know about it.

Trying to force someone to confess is rarely effective. A child lies more when they feel like they’ve been put on the spot (adults too).  

Calmly describe the problem, and give your child a chance to make amends.  

“I see your homework isn’t finished” or “I notice your room still isn’t clean”. Let them offer to take responsibility and correct the situation.

Then ask them what it was that made them feel like they had to lie in the first place.

You’re not looking for an excuse, just the problem your child thought they were solving by not telling the truth so you can help them address the underlying cause.

 

2. Connect With Your Child 

Connection is the foundation of honesty. It can stop children from lying.

When a child feels close to you, they want to share their real thoughts and feelings.

This is the strongest preventative measure you can take against lying.  This works with grown-ups too!

 

3. Be a Role Model 

Demonstrate integrity in your own life and your kids will follow.

Don’t let your children hear you lying to your boss about being sick, or telling friends you have “plans” you don’t really have to get out of an event.

Be honest! Walk the talk and your kids will too.

 

4. Teach The Value Of The Truth 

Talk to your kids about the importance of giving your word and how honoring agreements is how we build trust.

Have your kids research things they hear or see to determine if they are fact or exaggeration.

Explain how difficult it is to maintain a lie, and how good it feels to tell the truth.

When the value of truth is understood, children lying tends to stop.

 

5. Teach Kids Responsibility  

This one is for older kids (6 years and up) who have a clearer understanding of what truth is, and are starting to explore their world and interact more with others.

When an older child lies, help them understand how lying has consequences. Lying can hurt other people, affect relationships, or make you seem less trustworthy.

Related: Raising Kids That Care: Teaching Children Empathy

If your child has lied to someone, help them think of ways to earn back trust and mend the broken relationship.

Kids will begin to see the cause/effect of lying and start to understand how to take responsibility for their word. Trust is a privilege that is earned.

 

6. Don’t Call Your Kid a “Liar”  

Labels in general are bad news, as kids might start to self identify with the label making children’s lying behavior worse.

 

In other words, if you call your child a “liar” often enough they will believe you and lie even more.

 

Talk about the behavior, not the person. Express concern over what they’ve said, but reassure your child that they are a good person who can do something to amend the situation.

 

7. Praise Honesty 

Always be encouraging and positive when your child comes to you voluntarily with the truth.

“I broke the vase” should be met with “thank you for being honest and letting me know” rather than punishing them for the act itself.

Related: Positive Discipline: Parent With Love Not Fear

If a child knows they can come to you when something “bad” happens, and you’ll help problem solve rather than punish, they’ll continue to be truthful in the future.

Everybody lies at some point, children are no exception.

When your child lies, don’t panic. Try to understand the underlying situation, then help them see consequences and problem solve.  

Children lying happens for a reason. Make telling the truth more valuable.

 

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