What To Do When Your Child Lies

Why do children lie?

It might be disappointing to catch your child in a lie, but it is a normal stage in child development. Young children around 3 and 4 often lie just to avoid a punishment or to receive a reward.  For example, a child who spilled milk on the floor may say "I didn’t do it!" because they don’t want to be disciplined.

A child who is 5 or older typically bends the truth to avoid embarrassment or to make themselves look better.  At around 10, children become better liars. They can repeat the lie consistently and the lies get more complicated.

What can you do to discourage your child from lying?

Here are some tips you can try:

  • Be a role model for your child. Be careful what you say and don’t make promises you can’t keep. 
  • Praise your child when they’re honest.
  • Emphasize the importance of honesty in your family. Have warm conversations about telling the truth.
  • Try to build a close, affectionate bond with your child. An attached child wants to share their heart with you.
  • Tell your child how lying makes you feel and how it could affect your relationship.

How to address lying?

While lying is normal development, it is important to address it. If left alone, lying can develop into something more serious later in life.  It has the potential to hinder meaningful relationships based on truth and honesty. Without significant relationships, anyone can begin to feel alone or isolated.

Here are some tips for addressing lying:

  • Do your best to stay calm, no matter how severe the situation is.
  • Don’t label your child as a liar. That label isn’t good for self-esteem and might lead to more lying.
  • Point out the behaviour and encourage your child to try again. You can try saying the following: “Why don’t you try again and tell me what really happened?” or “I will come back in 10 minutes and ask you again. You won’t be in trouble if you give me a different answer.”
  • When you already know what happened, you can directly address the situation so you don’t put your child in a position where they may want to lie. “I know what happened. Let’s talk about why that wasn’t a good thing.” Or “I see there’s a drawing on the wall. Let’s clean it up.”
  • If your child does something that they shouldn’t have but confesses truthfully, praise them for telling the truth but also encourage them to take responsibility for their actions.

Frequent lying can be a sign of something more serious going on, and professional help may be needed.  If you are concerned about your child’s lying, you can talk to our mental health therapists.