Kids fib, and knowing how to respond can be challenging. As a parent, you want to keep the lines of communication open while making sure they understand that being dishonest isn’t OK. Here’s what you need to know about handling when your child lies to you.

Why Children Lie

There are many reasons why children might lie:

  • They may be too young to understand the consequences of lying.
  • They could be too young to truly understand the difference between fantasy and reality.
  • They may be afraid to upset or disappoint others.
  • They might be trying out a new behavior or idea.
  • They may be trying to get someone’s approval or boost their self-esteem.
  • They might want to deflect attention from themselves.

Tips for When Your Kid Lies to You

As a parent, there are plenty of ways to teach your kids how to better understand what lying is and how to be honest with others. Here are some tips to help you navigate this parenting challenge:

Resist the Urge To Get Upset

As hard as it may be, resist the urge to get upset when your child tells you a lie. Look at this event as an opportunity to figure out why they felt that lying was their best option. Your kids may even lie to prevent you from getting upset at them or at a situation. If you lose your cool, your child may find it hard to trust you and open up about these situations in the future. This belief holds true, no matter how old your child is.

Stick to the Facts

Respond to your child’s lie with facts, not with punishments. If your child lies about stealing a cookie from the jar, point out the crumbs on their shirt. Once you lay out all of the evidence in ways that are easy for them to understand, you can start teaching your child right from wrong.

Explain the Importance of Truth

"TRUTH?" engraved in a gray concrete block.

Image via Flickr by dreamsjung

While your children are young, it’s important to instill in your kids the importance of honesty. Here are some principles you might consider emphasizing:

  • Lying can hurt people’s feelings: Explain to your kids that telling someone a lie may make them feel betrayed. These feelings can break down communication, and they may end up losing a friend.
  • It can damage self-esteem: Habitual dishonesty may threaten your child’s sense of self-worth. Being honest feels good, and telling stories that temporarily inflate their ego will only prevent people from knowing who they really are. When the truth eventually comes out, kids may look worse than if they would have simply been honest.
  • Being dishonest leads to distrust: Help your children understand that avoiding the truth can make things worse or even put people in danger. They need to know that teachers, other adults, and peers may not trust them if they repeatedly lie.
  • Lying can be dangerous: Explain to kids that lying may put them in a vulnerable situation, like when your child lies about where they’re going. Help them understand that your concern goes beyond being strict. Remind them that being honest is for their safety. Ask them, “How will I find you if there’s an emergency?”
  • Lies lead to more lies: Kids might not understand that lies, even small white lies, tend to grow. Sometimes they’ll have to tell bigger lies to cover up the smaller ones. Not only is it stressful to try to remember all of their lies, but they may also eventually build a false version of reality. Let them know that lying is a poor decision and offer some alternative ways to handle those situations. You might follow up with, “That sounds like a tall tale. Let’s try again. Tell me what really happened.”

Build Truth-Telling Skills

Developing their truth-telling skills is essential, no matter whether your kids lie by omission or provide false truths.

  • Show them what they gain: By embracing the truth, kids garner many positive rewards, from respect from teachers, coaches, and other adults to a higher sense of self-esteem. Plus, being truthful helps create strong, honest relationships with others.
  • Offer positive rewards: When your child tells the truth, immediately follow up with affection, praise, or even a special activity. You might say, “I like the way you came to me with the truth,” or give them a token redeemable for a trip to the movies. This may help them become better at owning up to their misadventures.
  • Hold them accountable: Another response to your child’s dishonesty is to have them apologize to the recipient of the lie. For example, if they lied to their teacher about being able to volunteer for cleanup after class, apologizing to the teacher might help them understand the consequences of their behavior.

Be a Good Role Model

Modeling honesty is increasingly important as your children grow up. They watch you and emulate your behavior. When you lie in everyday situations, kids may start to notice. In these situations, however, consider simply telling the truth. This is the ideal opportunity to teach your kids the benefits of integrity. Remember that lying impacts your reputation just as much as your child lying affects theirs.

And since we all make mistakes, sharing your experiences can help your children understand that you’re not perfect either. Help them see that making the right choice may be hard in the moment, but this habit brings lasting rewards.

Pick Your Battles

As a parent, you have to determine which untruths are serious and which aren’t. Pick your battles, and focus mainly on the serious ones. You may hear your child compliment a friend, and then, behind their back, they say the opposite. You may feel compelled to call them out on this contradiction, or you may choose to let it go.

If you catch them lying about something dangerous or illegal, address it promptly. If you’re unsuccessful at home, you may want to seek professional help. This is particularly true if risky behavior involves promiscuous behavior, drugs, or other harmful activities.

The childcare experts at Crèmè de la Crèmè put together these tips about what to do when your child lies to you. Try them out next time you catch your child spinning a tall tale to help your child build good habits and relationships.