Why kids lie and what parents can do about it

Think of all those times you’ve lied just to get away with being late. And how many times have you altered the truth in order to avoid an unwanted responsibility? Kids do lie, indeed, but so do we—the grown-ups. Just like us, kids, too, have a reason for lying. However, when lies become a regular habit, it could be a sign of something a lot more serious than you might imagine.

Why do kids lie?

Grown-ups tend to think that kids tell lies just to get what they want, avoid punishment or get out of something they’d rather not do. These are some of the most common motivators, but there are some less obvious reasons, such as:

To test out a new habit

New skills and habits are an inevitable part of growing up. Lies, too, are just like those new skills and habits. Once they discover this “novel idea”, they simply want to try it out. They are truly curious to find out as to how this new skill might come in handy in a specific situation. What will this lie do for them? Could it be a way to get away with something?

They speak before they think

Sometimes, kids talk before they think. As a result, we might consider their impulsive remarks as lies, when in reality, they never even intended to lie in the first place.

To improve self-esteem and gain approval 

Sometimes, kids lie only to make themselves seem more impressive and better than they think they are. As children with lower self-esteem seek approval and praise that they are lacking so very much, they might view lies as the only way of achieving that.

To distract or divert focus

The opposite may also be true. Sometimes, when kids are getting too much attention for, say, health-related issues, they might lie just to get the focus off themselves. They might even say, “My tummy doesn’t hurt today,” just to get their parents to stop worrying about them.

How can parents help?

Luckily, we can certainly teach our kids how to be honest and straightforward just by altering our forms of communication and gaining insight into the underlying reasons behind their lies.

  • Model honesty

Treat your kids the way you’d want them to treat you and everyone else. Children always imitate grown-ups, which is why we have to make sure we are the honest ones in the first place.

  • Reward honesty

When you notice that your kids are telling the truth, make sure you praise them and thank them for their honesty. You could say, “I know it wasn’t that easy to admit that you smashed the cup, but I really appreciate the fact that you decided to tell the truth anyway.”

  • Take the time to explain potential repercussions of lies

What does “A Lie Has No Legs” stand for? Take the time to let your child know that once you pull the wool over someone’s eyes, it becomes that much harder to trust you and that is how people come to distrust liars for good.
You could also explain the advantages of telling the truth. However, it is important to keep in mind that there is a fine line between lying and too much honesty.

  • Teach them how to tell the difference between truth and lies

Take the time to explain the difference between lying and telling the truth. Preschool-age kids find it particularly difficult to tell the difference between the two. You could also use this simple exercise: “If I tell you that the grass is red, would it be a lie or the truth?”

  • Understand the motive for their lies

Each kid must be approached differently. We must understand the purpose of their lie i.e. why they had to act this way. Quite often, solving the issue that triggered the lie might prove to be a lot more powerful than merely reacting to it. For example, when kids don’t want to go to school, they often pretend that they aren’t feeling well. At times like this, we must try to uncover the reason, rather than get angry at them for lying. What if they’re being bullied at school? What if there’s something about the setting?

  • Be honest with yourself

Once you have uncovered the reason behind the lie, think twice about your behavior and attitude. Try to be brutally honest with yourself when answering the following question: What do you have to change about yourself in order for your kid not to feel like lying?

Are we supposed to punish our kids for lying?

Punishment  sounds a bit too harsh, doesn’t it? There is mostly no need for grave repercussions when kids truly rely on their parents and the latter prove to be sympathetic, understanding and friendly. However, anything is possible.

If you are taking the time to uncover underlying issues and are generally adhering to all of the suggestions from above, but your kids continue to tell lies on a regular basis, you might have to warn them about the potential consequences of their actions. This could be them having to give up their favorite pastime or being denied privilege for a while. 

Do make sure that repercussions are fair and appropriate given the context and that they won’t affect your kid’s health negatively in any way. Your kid’s age is equally important. It is absolutely pointless to expect preschool-age kids to tell the truth when they have no idea what truth really means.

If you begin to sense that you are having a hard time managing the situation and the lies are beginning to pose risks for those around you, make sure to consult with a development specialist.