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Boy in Field, Sumi Brush Painting


Children’s Lies

Family Desk Reference To Psychology Book Cover Graphic

At six years old, Suzie lies to her parents about where she has been playing.  At ten, Timmy lied about breaking a neighbor’s computer game player.  Many teenagers lie about drug or alcohol use when their parents confront them.  But there are simple ways to reduce the chance of your children lying to you, and parents often make mistakes that encourage their children to lie to them.  Obviously, parents telling fibs set a bad example and teach their children that lying is sometimes useful and acceptable.  Never lie to avoid trouble or for any other reason.  For example, don’t lie about your child’s age to save money when going to the movies or buying a bus ticket.

Parents make many other very subtle mistakes that, without the parents knowing it, encourage their children to tell lies.  One way of provoking a lie is to ask whether your children did something wrong when you know they did.  Asking angrily, in particular, puts pressure on them, and they naturally react by wanting to lie.  If you know your child has done something wrong, it is much better to confront the child with your knowledge directly and punish the child.  Trapping your child in a lie when you already know the truth unnecessarily helps build the self-image of a liar in the child.

Don’t angrily interrogate your children about a possible misdeed and then harshly punish them after they admit the wrongdoing.  When faced with this sequence repeatedly, the child naturally wants to lie to avoid harsh punishment.  Instead, make it clear you will punish misdeeds more severely if your child lies about them.  For example, if your child admits insulting someone, you might require the child to apologize and do something nice for the person.  If the child insulted someone and then lied to you about it, you could require the apology, the kind act, and impose the loss of a privilege.  Lying about a misdeed should either double the punishment or result in two punishments, one for the misdeed and another for lying.

Be sure to question children calmly.  You may be suspicious or skeptical and ask probing questions, but avoid extreme anger.  If your child admits having done wrong, show appreciation for the child’s honesty and courage in doing so.  You may even show a little affection to a young child for telling the truth, but punish the child accordingly.

Teach that lying damages friendships and relationships and can result in losing friends and respect from other people, lowering one’s self-esteem.  Emphasize life is sad and empty when people can’t trust their loved ones, and that once other people begin to think of you as a liar, it takes a long time to gain their respect and trust again.  When your child first lies to you or if your child rarely lies to you, consider the lie a crisis in your relationship.  Express your deep disappointment and explain that you don’t want them to hurt themselves with this kind of behavior.  After punishing children for this mistake, forgive them and don’t bring it up again.

If your child lies to you regularly, eliminate the common mistakes described above encouraging lies.  Avoid anger, arguments, and threats because a battle of wills only contributes to the problem.  If your disappointment over the lies hasn’t helped, stop letting them ruin your mood.  Your disappointment or anger may act as a reward for the child, a victory in hurting you.

Never call your child a liar.  You don’t want this label to become a part of the child’s self-image.  Teach the importance of trust in relationships and the damaging consequences of lies, but once you have made your position very clear, keep your statements short and to the point.  Don’t reward your child with too much attention for lies.  Explain you must punish each lie to help the child learn from these mistakes.  Show confidence that your child will eventually learn.  Your child needs this support and faith.

Increase your vigilance and occasionally check on the truth of statements.  Children need to know you won’t tolerate lies and you will try to find out whether they are lying to you.  Explain you regret needing to do this and you look forward to the time when their continued honesty allows you to stop checking.  Don’t go to extremes and constantly check on your child or act like a detective, however.  Continually raking up evidence for lies shows you don’t trust them to improve.  Also, children, adolescents in particular, need some privacy.  Parents can sometimes push their children to start lying by prying too much, so avoid severe interrogations about their private lives.

Pay attention to what your children lie about.  This may give clues as to what might help.  Children who lie to other people about money or possessions may need part-time jobs, so they can get some of the things they want.  Some lies relate to overly strict rules.  If your rules about where your children may play result in lies, for example, perhaps you should change these rules.

Remaining calm also reduces the likelihood of lies when you suspect children or teenagers of alcohol or drug use.  Reassure them you won’t overreact and calmly ask for the truth.  This gives you the best chance of uncovering a problem and helping them with it.  Try your best to show understanding, and find out how your teenager feels about it.  Don’t try to find out how much your teenager uses until after you show you will remain calm.  Don’t make or discuss any plans to deal with the problem until after you learn what your teenager uses, how often, how your teenager feels, and what led to the behavior.

Many lies really come from situations that put unnecessary pressure on children to lie and that teach the child to become comfortable with being a liar.  Lies may also provide angry children the revenge of hurting you.  By following all of these simple tips, you eliminate many reasons for children to lie and you greatly increase your chances of discovering the truth and helping when problems occur.

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