When Children Lie

February 12th, 2013 posted by Elizabeth Pantley

chidren talking by the river bank


I’ve been catching my child in small lies, of the “I didn’t do it” variety. How can I stop this behavior before it starts to escalate?

Think about it

Children lie for a variety of reasons. They lie to keep their parents happy with them, they lie so they won’t get in trouble, they lie to cover embarrassment or inadequacy, or they lie because they don’t make the clear distinction between fact and fiction. Teaching your child the value of telling the truth takes time, teaching and patience.

Don’t play detective

Don’t ask questions that set your child up to lie. When your child has chocolate on his face and the candy is gone, don’t ask, “Did you eat that candy bar that was sitting on the counter?” Instead make a statement of fact; “I’m disappointed that you ate the candy bar without asking. That will be your snack for today.” If your child says, “I didn’t.” don’t play twenty questions, just state the facts, “The candy is gone, and there’s chocolate on your face. Why don’t you go up to your room for a while and come on back down when you want to talk about it.”

Spend time on solutions

Focus on finding a solution instead of laying blame. “Regardless of how it happened, the lamp is broken. What are we going to do about it?”

Be straightforward and honest

If you’re not sure if your child is lying make an honest statement, “That doesn’t sound like the truth to me.”

Don’t start the ‘off the hook’ mistake

If your child comes to you with the truth, resist the urge to lecture. Thank the child for telling you and then focus on finding a solution or imposing a necessary consequence, without anger. Don’t make the mistake of saying, “If you tell the truth, you won’t be punished.” We all make mistakes, and owning up to them can be difficult, but we still need to accept responsibility for our actions. As an adult, if you’re driving your car and hit someone’s car in the parking lot, you are not “off the hook” if you own up to your mistake, but you can be in serious trouble if you are caught in a “hit and run.” So avoid the trap of saying, “When you tell the truth, you’ll be off the hook,” instead, think of it this way, “If you lie, you’ll be in even bigger trouble!”

Review your expectations

Kids sometimes lie because they feel they’re not meeting your expectations, and they think it’s easier to lie than feel like a failure. Take a look at how you respond to your child’s mistakes or inadequacies, and make sure you leave room for imperfections.

Model truthfulness

When your child hears you telling those innocent “little white lies,” you are teaching your child something about honesty. What “little white lies” do I mean? Having your child tell someone on the phone that you’re not home so that you don’t have to talk. Shrinking your child’s age so that you can get the cheaper rate at the movies, the amusement park, or at a restaurant. You are teaching your child all the time, whether you plan it or not.

If it’s a pattern?

If your child develops a pattern of lying, or lies about important things, and is persistent about continuing the lie even after the truth is discovered, it would be wise for you to seek the advice of a professional. Your pediatrician, school counselor or hospital can help you find someone to talk to. (Excerpted with permission by NTC/Contemporary Publishing Group Inc. from Perfect Parenting, The Dictionary of 1,000 Parenting Tips by Elizabeth Pantley, copyright 1999)

Elizabeth Pantley (57 Posts)

Elizabeth Pantley is also the president of Better Beginnings, Inc. She is a popular speaker on family issues. Elizabeth’s newsletter, Parent Tips is seen in schools nationwide. She appears as a regular radio show guest and has been quoted in Parents, Parenting, Redbook, Good Housekeeping, American Baby, Twins, Working Mother, and Woman’s Day magazines. You can visit her website at http://www.pantley.com/elizabeth/

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