When children lie, it can be a frustrating and emotional battle. While lying is not something we encourage as parents, it is a typical stage for children and an important milestone in child development. Essential life skills can come with the emergence of lying, such as decision-making skills, moral understanding and interpersonal skills. Understanding that lying is a normal part of child development can help reframe how we view it. While lying is typical behavior, there are some strategies you can use to minimize it and encourage honesty.
Possible Reasons for Lying
Avoiding Consequences or Punishment: Children may lie to get out of a consequence or avoid getting in trouble. If there are no benefits to telling the truth and the consequence will be equally as severe, children may learn to lie to avoid facing the consequence.
Curiosity and Testing Limits: Lying can happen when children are beginning to discover different ideas and limits. They may test ideas such as “what will lying get me?” or “what happens if I say this when it’s not true?” They can also lie to try to restructure ideas or situations into the way they wish them to be.
Enhance self-esteem and gain approval: Sometimes children may lie because they lack confidence and are trying to find ways to feel better about themselves and seem more impressive to the people in their lives.
What to do when your child lies?
Try to determine the reason for the lie and help children develop the skills they may be missing. Figuring out the reason your child is lying may help to determine how to handle it. If children are lying due to low self-esteem or because they lack confidence, helping them learn ways to feel better about themselves may help. If your child is lying to test boundaries and limits, consistency and follow-through with instructions may help. Staying calm, regardless of the reason for lying, can help to minimize the attention the behavior is getting.
Reinforce honesty and a realistic environment. Talking to your child about telling the truth and why it is important can also be beneficial. Focusing on honesty and praising your child for telling the truth is a great way to encourage that behavior. Helping your child to know that even if they did something wrong, telling the truth will minimize the consequences and have a better outcome. Helping your child to feel safe and secure will help this process along.
Don’t set your child up for a lie; give instructions instead of asking questions. Another way to minimize lying or dishonesty is to limit the opportunities they have to lie. If you walk into your child’s room and see all of their books thrown on the floor, try not to ask, “did you throw all of your books on the floor?” This gives them the opportunity to lie. Instead, try to state what happened and give them a clear, calm instruction: “I see your books are all on the floor. Please pick them up and put them back on the shelf.”
If you and your child are struggling with lying, Nationwide Children’s offers free Positive Parenting Program (Triple P) classes, including 1-on-1 consulting, that can help with this topic and more. For more information, click here, email TripleP@NationwideChildrens.org or call (614) 355-8099.
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