Parent Question: What Do I Do When My Child Lies?


“What do I do when my child lies?”  I get this question all the time.  Trust me, you are not the only parent struggling with this. This is normal, so don’t question every parenting decision you have ever made when your kid tells a fib. This article highlights the four categories of lies, how to respond to each, and how to create an environment that encourages honesty.

One important point to consider, children between the ages of two and four are simply exploring creativity and boundaries, which may include telling untruths.  Around the age of four, children start to lie for the same reason adults do:  to gain an advantage, for convenience, to avoid punishment, and to boost self-esteem. 

Lacking Skills Lies:  These lies occur when the child has a slow processing speed, impulse control issues, short-term/long-term memory delays, or an inability to correctly assess a situation.  This type of lying is extremely common in children with ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder.  In these situations, the best thing parents can do is give the child time to think about their answers and then help them learn the language necessary to provide an accurate report of events.  It is vital for parents to eliminate their child’s fear of “getting in trouble” in this situation so that they can learn the cognitive and language skills they need to succeed in life.

Lies to Protect Themselves or Others:  Your daughter may lie about how much she slept the night before because she doesn’t want to worry you.  Your son may lie about a bad grade on a test because he wants to eliminate extra stress on you.  When your child lies, the first thing you must do is to consider the goal of the lie. Was she afraid of making a mistake? Is the child feeling anxious, guilty, ashamed, or scared?  Is he more afraid of your anger or the possible punishment?  Take the time to explore all possible motives before reacting.

Tall Tales Lies:  One of the greatest things about children is their “rose colored glasses”.  They simply remember themselves as the hero of the story even if they were the villain.  If this is the case or your child has a minor detail wrong, just ignore it.  If your child is telling a tall tale to look better or gain approval the best thing you can do is tell the truth.  Remember, your child is not on the witness stand.  Don’t ask leading questions or argue.  Simply interrupt the lie and state the truth. 

Bold Lies to Avoid Punishment:  When this occurs, use natural consequences that will help build character.  If your son has been hiding notes from the teacher and the teacher gives you a call, have him write an apology note admitting what he did wrong.  Have him ask for another chance to take the note home.  Through this punishment he is learning to confess, ask for forgiveness, and right his wrong.

General Tips to Promote Honesty:

1.  Model honesty.  If you tell a lie, immediately apologize and correct it.  Help your child learn how to do this.

2.  Perform honesty inspections.  For example, don’t ask if they have homework, just get out the notebook and start checking.  Don’t ask if they cleaned their room, go look.

3.  Never label your child as a liar.  Your child’s behavior patterns do not equal identity.  Are you what you did as a kid?

4.  Teach through stories.  The Boy Who Cried Wolf is a great one, but use a variety of books, movies, and personal experiences to emphasize the importance of being honest.

Beth Long
Author: Beth Long


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