All kids tell small lies when they are little. It might start when they are toddlers and don’t want to admit to taking something and continue when they are bigger kids and lie about doing their chores. It starts out innocent and even cute sometimes, but can get to the point that it’s concerning and we want to help them stop that behavior. Why do kids lie and how can you help your child develop the understanding to stop lying?
Why do Kids Lie?
1. Young children between 3-5 years old often like to create imaginary worlds and might get mixed up when figuring out the difference between their imagination and reality. It might not be clear where their creations end and the real world begins.
2. It’s an easy way of getting out of something they don’t want to do.
3. They aren’t very good at seeing ahead and realizing consequences for their actions yet.
4. They don’t think about others feelings and reactions and don’t see who or why it hurts.
5. They are worried about disappointing you or not being as good as you want them to be.
6. They know there’s going to be a punishment for something they did and they are trying to get out of it.
7. They tell a small lie without thinking in response to a question, and when you probe further they realize they’ve lied so they dig themselves in deeper in order to cover it up.
8. They want to fit in and win approval by their peers.
9. To get attention or because they have low self-esteem.
How do you help your kids stop lying?
1. Set family rules, including that we don’t lie to each other in our home. Explain that it’s hurtful and we expect all to tell the truth. Make the expectations clear as well as the consequences for breaking the rule.
2. When they are preschoolers, use every opportunity to share with them what lying is and why lying is bad. “In response to a lie, be firm and serious, and say, ‘That sounds like you’re not telling the truth’ or ‘Are you absolutely sure that’s what happened?’ Make it clear that you are not taken in by the lies, but move on gracefully after listening to and gently correcting your child.” (Dr. Talwar, Parents.com)
3. Explain that lying will make it harder for people to believe what they are saying next time. Help them understand that lying affects relationships and causes mistrust.
4. Use a story to illustrate your point like “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”. There’s also Howard B. Wigglebottom and the Monkey on His Back: A Tale About Telling the Truth , The Berenstain Bears and the Truth and Be Honest and Tell the Truth. (Affiliate Links)
5. Don’t get angry or yell at them when you catch them in a lie. Stay calm and used a kind tone of voice when talking to them about it. If you need to take a break to collect yourself, go into another room or go on a walk until you are ready to talk. They should feel safe to come and talk with you about anything, especially mistakes they have made.
6. Give them a logical consequence for lying (ages 5 and up). If they told a lie to get out of something, make sure they don’t achieve their goal. If they said they brushed their teeth when they didn’t, make sure they go brush their teeth. Then give a consequence based on their age. If they are under 9-10 years, that might be a time out. Have them sit in a quiet place in the kitchen or hall and set the timer for the number of minutes that they are old (7 minutes for a 7 year old). They must sit quietly without talking or having any entertainment the whole time or it starts over. If they are older than 9-10 years, consequences might be losing screen time, cell phones, or friend time for 24 hours. Try to have the consequence related to what they lied about. If they had their cell phone in their room past bedtime, take their cell phone away for 24 hours. If they stayed up too late watching tv and lied about it, take away screen time.
7. Thank them for telling the truth and let them know you appreciate and admire their honesty. Let them know that you know they will be able to learn from this and accept the consequences.
8. Talk about the reason behind the lie, especially if it was embarrassment, fear of punishment, or trying to be accepted by their friends. Discuss what they can do differently next time, try to be understanding, and help them process their feelings.
9. Don’t ask questions that set them up for an easy lie. If you know they didn’t clean their room, don’t ask them if they cleaned their room. Instead say that you noticed they didn’t clean it and remind them to do so or give a consequence for that if needed.
10. Don’t label them as a liar or a bad kid. Once they feel labeled and that there’s no hope for your approval, they are more likely to live the label that’s been placed on them.
11. Be a good example. Let them see you being honest. If an opportunity arises for you to explain a decision you are making to be honest, share it with them. Make sure you aren’t being a bad example. For instance, don’t fudge a younger siblings age to get the cheaper child’s price at an amusement park. And don’t tell the kids to say you aren’t home when you don’t want to answer the phone.
12. Work on building a close relationship of love and trust. If they are lying to get attention or due to low self-esteem, this can really help. And it will make them more likely to come to you when they make mistakes in the future. For ideas on how to build trust and a closer relationship, read 10 Ideas to Improve Any Relationship.