Parenting Tips: What to Do when Children Lie

Your children lie – that's inevitable. Here's how to deal with the different types of lies they tell

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Who, me? Children lie as a regular part of growing up

Children lie – that’s inevitable. But it doesn’t mean they should get away with it

“I didn’t break it!” “I am so pedaling!” “I don’t know.” We’ve all been the recipient of these limpid-eyed confidences, imparted by apparently truthful children who we know are really lying through their teeth.

For younger kids, lies may be wish fulfillment or a symptom of an age-appropriate inability to distinguish fantasy and reality. Once kids head toward the teen years, however, lying becomes more deliberate.

Lies and Their Consequences

Kids may lie for different reasons and in different ways, but whatever their motivation, it’s important to discourage the behaviour early and often. Here’s how:

Get everyone on the same page. Kids who move between moms and dads, with multiple grandparents and family members thrown into the mix, can easily “forget” to let clued-out caregivers know they have homework to do or music to practice. While a few lapses are understandable, especially if the schedule’s new, don’t let your child use shared custody as an excuse to lie by omission. Send a notebook with responsibilities spelled out on to the next adult – and have them sign it.

Don’t let children use lies as deflectors. A skillful child can turn “Who broke that plate?” into “You always call me a liar! You never believe me! It’s not fair!” Stay with the original issue – but make it clear that their lie compounds it.

Discourage your little lawyer. “It’s true, I didn’t eat the cookies! I dropped them and then ate the broken bits like you always let us.” Kids smart enough to make these distinctions are smart enough to know what you meant. Even when a child’s lie is technically “true,” impose a consequence.

Allow preteen liars to save face. If you hear obviously misleading information from a child struggling to define her identity, you can choose to respond with a non-committal “Hm” or “That’s not how I understand it” rather than calling her out.

Lead Truthfulness by Example

If you have reason to lie to your kids, it’s best to be honest. You may have every reason not to tell your child about incest or teenage crack binges. When they ask, you can simply say, “I don’t want to lie to you, but I also don’t want to tell you. That information is private.”

Find more advice on age-based lying here, plus non-punitive ways to counter it at this site.