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Parentalk: What to do when your child lies to you?

Parentalk: What to do when your child lies to you?

‘I didn’t hit my brother.’ ‘The teacher said we all must bring chocolates in the lunchbox’. ‘There was a tiger in the room last night, but I scared it away’.

Lies. Are you there yet? Is your child lying to you? It can get on your nerves to see your little saint transform into a manipulative liar.

Stop it! Don’t lie! Tell me the truth! Lying is a bad habit! Don’t be a liar! There are some statements that parents resort to when they notice their child lying. Worry, exasperation, and many other feelings cloud a parent’s mind because we all want to raise an honest child.

But, according to this study, lying is an important developmental milestone. It shows that your child is on track with cognitive development. At around 3 years of age, a child realizes that we all have different beliefs. They often try to preempt what the other person may have in mind and try to lie to understand what they know or don’t know. Early liars are also known to be more successful at school. They also do this to curb unwanted actions from adults, for example, a scolding. In their mind, they are constantly battling with the urge to tell the truth and are resorting to lying. This is an indicator of cognitive sophistication and developmentally appropriate brain functioning. This is an important social skill and isn’t always something to be worried about.

However, parents need to take special care so the lies don’t get serious or too regular. If they use it regularly to avoid trouble, it is problematic. Well, parenting is tricky!

Parents must teach their children the value of truth. This will make them responsible and trustworthy.

Here is what you can do to prevent lying from becoming a bad habit:

Understand why they may be lying: Apart from just trying their new skill, here are some reasons why your child may be lying. Knowing the reason will equip you better to handle the situation.

  • When they are guilty of their action and don’t want to land in trouble
  • They wish to understand your response to a certain situation
  • They want to add a fun element to their story
  • Children feel appreciated when they make you laugh. They garner laughter when they add fun twists to stories and that could be their motivation to lie
  • They wish to seem fun, smart, and better in general
  • They want to gain attention
  • They want an adult to agree to give them what they want
  • They want to prevent the other person from getting hurt

Encourage them to tell the truth: When young children are giving fun angles to their story or are just trying to make you laugh, you can ignore them and laugh along. However, when they start understanding the difference between true and untrue, you must encourage them to tell the truth. Let them know the importance of being truthful and the consequences of lying. Read books and narrate stories that emphasize the importance of truth. You can also give them imaginary situations and ask how they’d feel if you lied to them. When they are exaggerating the scenarios in stories, laugh with them and tell them how that scenario isn’t possible. You could also tell them that they have an impressive imagination and would make great storytellers. Tell exaggerated stories yourself and motivate them to spot the lies.

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Avoid putting them in situations where they may be tempted to lie: When you know that they may have broken a toy or spoilt your favorite linen, do not ask who did it. Asking would tempt them to lie. Be empathetic instead. ‘Ohh no! the toy broke, let us try to mend it. I think we need to be more careful next time.’ This statement wouldn’t put them in a spot where they’d lie and make them more comfortable to be truthful next time. When they know you will be calm upon knowing the truth, they will avoid lying.

Be kind and appreciative when they are truthful: Appreciate when they own up to their mistakes and goof-ups. Tell them you are proud because they are telling the truth and promise to be with them to fix the situation. While lecturing may seem wise, it is often counterproductive. Leave the words of wisdom for a calmer moment and focus on your child’s honesty.

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Make it easier for them to be truthful: Once you have recognized why your child may be lying, try to fix the underlying reason. If you think it is for attention, spend more time with them. If they wish to seem better, be appreciative in general. Fixing the gaps will address the issue at the root rather than requiring you to take remedial actions later.

Do not threaten, talk about consequences: ‘I will not talk to you if you lie’, ‘Police comes to catch liars’, ‘I will tell your teacher about it’, are all threats and will not motivate children to speak the truth. They will just get more insecure and figure out ways to polish their lies further and make them more realistic.

Talk to them about the consequences of lying. Tell them that it is normal to have the temptation to lie and you have it too but it doesn’t serve any purpose. Quote examples and tell them how it makes you feel and how people may stop trusting them altogether. Tell them that disappointing someone with truth is easier than disappointing them by telling lies. Be calm when you talk to them.

Ask them if they feel scared to admit the truth to you and reassure them that you won’t be angry if they are truthful. Stick to your words and control your impulses when they are truthful to you later.

Do not label them: You are the parent and 8/10 times you will figure out that they are lying. However, avoid labeling them a liar or asking every time if they are lying. Doing so have a detrimental impact on the lying child’s psychology. It will make them internalize that they are a liar and they will not make an effort to say the truth.

Reassure them when they are lying about or hiding serious issues: Your child may be experiencing bullying or sexual abuse but may be trying to hide it from you. Do not panic in such a situation. Sit with them and reassure them that you will resolve the problem if they open up about it. Be mindful of your reactions and behavior when they open up as they may make or break your child’s trust in you.

Model being truthful: Most parents lie daily to avoid tantrums, ex. telling them you are going to the doctor every time you are heading out.  It doesn’t take kids long to realize that you are lying. They learn from you and think that lying is ok because mom and dad are doing it anyway. Later, if you tell them about a no-lies rule in the house, they will not take it seriously. Also, give them examples of situations where you could have lied but chose to be truthful.

If nothing is working, consult a professional:  If none of your efforts are working, there could be an underlying cause that you may not be aware of. It is a good idea to consult a child counselor or a mental health professional to figure out the reason behind your child’s behavior.

It may be worrisome to see your child lying but maintaining your composure is the only way to handle it. Spend more time with your child to understand the source of their behavior and talk to them patiently. Most children will outgrow their behavior if you respond mindfully and model the right behavior.

Happy Parenting!


 Smriti is a freelance content writer and an avid reader. She quit her 6 year-long IT career to embrace her love for writing. She writes content across genres and takes pride in her ability to research and carve magic with words. She passionately writes about parenting and is currently working on her book. When not writing or reading, she can be seen running behind any of her 2 kids or learning Deutsch.




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