When Children Lie…

Children lie for a variety of reasons. Very young children find it difficult to differentiate between imagination and reality, and may make up stories to express fantasies. Lies may also be used to avoid punishment or to please parents. Older children may use lies as coping mechanisms (i.e. to get attention or to express frustration).

Teaching children to be truthful may be difficult because they often receive mixed messages. For example, children observe their parents tell “white lies” (i.e. saying they are ill or busy to avoid attending social engagements) and are socialized to avoid disappointing and hurting the feelings of others (i.e. acting politely when receiving a gift he or she does not like). It might be difficult for a child to understand when lying is prosocial (i.e. protects the feelings of others and demonstrates social awareness and sensitivity) and when it is not.

It is important for parents to demonstrate honesty in their own relationships with others. Also, talk to your child about truthfulness and trust at a developmentally-appropriate level; explain how frequent lying may affect a friend’s trust and willingness to play with the child. Explore why sometimes people (and children) lie, and consider alternative approaches.

Instead of asking your child questions that invite lying, tell your child what you know and focus on solutions and/or consequences. For example, when a parent knows that a child did not finish his or her homework or got into a fight at school, do not ask questions to test whether the child will admit to the misbehavior. Instead, tell the child that you know what happened and work towards a satisfactory resolution of the situation.

Encourage your child to tell the truth by praising honesty and not overreacting to truthful admissions. Tell your child that you appreciate him or her being honest with you.

Consider the purpose of the lie before reacting and let your child know that mistakes are opportunities to learn. Together, come up with alternative ways of dealing with the issue in the future.