It’s frustrating when your child is telling lies. They can range from huge fibs to little white lies. Every child lies, but some do it more than others.
Sometimes we even encourage them to lie to avoid offending someone, like, “Tell Nanny how much you love the jumper she knitted for you!”
Why do young children lie?
Very young children rarely intend to lie and may not realise they’re doing so. They have powerful imaginations and enjoy telling you stories. This storytelling lying is very normal.
Join in and have fun with it. You can let them know you’re being imaginative too, rather than telling them off for doing something wrong. This imaginative storytelling can lead to great role playing games you can play together.
Slightly older children might tell you ridiculous lies such as, “At nursery today I fell over and broke my arm, and they had to get an ambulance to take me to hospital!”
For these unimportant lies, try ignoring them and move the conversation on. Don’t give the lie any attention and avoid calling them out for it. If you know it’s unlikely to be true, don’t ask any follow-up questions. Instead, re-focus them onto something different.
Why do older children lie?
As children grow older, they realise they can cover up the truth or make themselves sound better with lies. It’s something we do as adults too.
Reasons behind your child telling lies include:
- Get themselves out of trouble
- Cover up inappropriate behaviour
- Get approval from peers
- Improve their popularity
- Boost self esteem
- Test out a new behaviour to see what happens
Some children are lie impulsively. They don’t even think about what they’re saying and just tell you what you want to hear. So when you ask your child if they’ve cleaned their room, they say “yes” immediately, even though you know they haven’t.
Other reasons for lying
Your child could also lie if they feel low, stressed or depressed:
- “I slept fine last night”
- “I ate at my friend’s house”
- “I’m not worried about the big test!”
These lies help take your attention away, but your child may also be lying because they don’t want you to feel worried about them.
If you’re concerned that your child is lying to cover up a bigger mental health problem, consider speaking to your GP or contacting an organisation like Young Minds for specific advice.
How do I deal with my child telling lies?
There’s no one way to deal with lying because there are so many reasons your child might do it. Investigate the situation: What reason do they have for lying?
For impulsive lies, give them a chance to think again. You could say, “I’m going to walk away for five minutes so you can think about if what you’ve said is truthful, then I’ll ask you again.”
If your child is lying routinely, you can gently call out their behaviour. You might say, “I think you’re telling a tall tale. Why don’t you start again and tell me what actually happened?” Avoid labelling them as “a liar” or they could feel you’ll never believe them.
Giving consequences for lying
When the situation is more serious, you may choose to give your child a consequence for their behaviour.
If you do, make it a short and immediate consequence and never a physical punishment such as smacking. for example, they might lose a short amount of screen time or have a toy taken away for a limited time.
Tell them this will happen every time they lie, so they know what the consequence will be. Keeping your response consistent means there are no surprises about what will happen if they choose to lie.
Don’t try to catch your child out by forcing them into lying when you already know the answer. If you know what the problem is, focus on this rather than forcing them to admit to doing it.
For example, if your child broke a toy, there’s no point asking, “Did you break that toy?” when you know they did. Instead you might say, “I’m disappointed that your toy is broken. Can you tell me what happened?”
Often children lie to cover up something bad they’ve done, like lying about having finished their homework. Separate out the two issues, the behaviour and the lying to cover it up. You can remind them it’s better to be honest when they do something wrong.
Praise your child when they are honest about their behaviour. You could say, “I’m so pleased you told me the truth, even though it was hard to do that.” You might reduce the consequence because they’ve been honest with you, as long as you don’t feel they’re doing this to manipulate you or negotiate the consequence.
Remind them you don’t expect them to always be perfect. You can tell them you still love them when they’ve made a mistake, and that everyone gets things wrong sometimes.
Check out our popular Support Talk video series, called The Ask. It’s a great way to get everyone talking and listening to each other. Find out how The Ask can help reduce conflict in your family.
Looking for more?
We run regular webinars and parenting classes that can help if you find your child’s behaviour challenging. We’ll help you identify the reasons behind the behaviour with practical ideas you can use to help manage difficult situations. Browse our upcoming events.