Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire: Why Kids Lie

by Kevin Leman

Why do kids lie? They start early.

It’s hard to trust again after a child has started habitually lying. How can you be sure he won’t lie again? How do you break him of the habit? Because once he starts, it’ll only get worse. If you’ve got a child who’s started lying, here are some things you may want to know. 

Kids lie for two basic reasons. 

One is for wish fulfillment. Some kids will come home and tell you they scored three goals in soccer…and then you find out they didn’t play at all.

The second is out of fear. “Did you break that vase?” you demand. “No, I didn’t do it! Little Joey did it!” your seven-year-old claims. Most children lie out of fear.  in order for there to be a relationship between two human beings, it must be based on trust otherwise the lying will become a mountain and get between them. So if your child lies to you, he needs to be caught in that lie and told that lying is not acceptable. There also needs to be a second consequence for lying.

Let’s say that, a couple days later, your child says something like, “Can I go next door and play with Ronnie?”

Your answer needs to be a matter-of-fact “No.”

“Buy why?” your child asks. “You always let me go.” 

Now’s the teachable moment. 

“Honey, I don’t have any assurance that you’re going to be where you said you’ll be. Remember Wednesday night, when you told me you were going to be at Susan’s—and you weren’t?” 

Do you beat the kid over the head with the lie? No. Don’t drag it out long term. But saying something like that two or three times makes a memorable impression on a child that lying isn’t what you do. It doesn’t gain you anything, and it breaks down trust between the two of you. Children need to see and feel that immediate result. 

Remember the age old admonition: “You won’t get in trouble if you tell me the truth.” That needs to be true of your family. If your child tells the truth she can know that you’re unhappy, but she should not be punished for telling the truth. In those situations, you’ll need to think carefully before you open your mouth. How you respond to such a situation directly relates to how comfortable your child is in telling you the truth. Kids can be as dumb as mud and will do stupid things, but if they own up to them and say they’re sorry, they need to know that life will go on and you won’t beat them over the head for years for their mistake. 

Lastly, parents too have to be careful about their own lies; even those pesky little white lies are still lies. If you say to your child, “If someone from work calls, I’m not here,” and it’s not the truth, your child is smart enough to know it. And then your kid thinks, If it’s okay for you to lie, it’s okay for me to lie. Don’t forget, if you value honesty, you must also model it for your children. And that goes for any bit of character you’d like to see develop in your child 

For more on raising kids, Have a New Kid by Friday is a valuable resource!

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