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What to Do When Children Tell a Lie

As a family life and child development expert, JP has devoted years in nurturing students and strengthening family relations.

Understanding the root cause of lying is important in correcting the behavior.

Understanding the root cause of lying is important in correcting the behavior.

When children talk about how unicorns and fairies ate their snacks at school, we might smile and encourage them to continue with their stories.

However, when our child insists that a 20-foot creature knocked over your favorite vase, we instantly become furious.

Why? They are both lies. So what do we do?

Here’s a fact: children lie. But why do children lie? Your task is to unravel why the child lied in the first place.

In addition, implement corrective strategies that are productive and positive. This means controlling your anger and using a level head to deal with the situation.

So, what do you do?

If A Child Lies to Express Creativity and Imagination

It is no surprise that children, especially younger ones, can concoct a whimsical story from thin air. Is this lying?

It’s definitely not telling the truth. But during this stage, children begin to explore their imagination and creativity. Their growing vocabularies can enliven some ludicrous stories. It is during this stage that they engage in role-playing games. They have conversations with imaginary friends. They insist that there is a different world in the wardrobe with an evil ice queen or some other fantastical character.

What Parents Should Do:

Obviously, this lie was never meant to hurt or deceive others. It’s merely an expression of the child’s imagination and creativity. Encourage them to express themselves by using words, gestures, facial expressions, and even props.

However, it is essential to remind them about what is real and what is fantasy. Parents also need to consider what happened from the child’s perspective. A simple blanket can be a princess’ gown and their teddy bear can be their knight in shining armor. And beware, if you keep on discouraging them from exploring their creativity, you become the evil witch or the gruesome ogre in their stories. However, when you listen attentively, you can witness that spark in their eyes, and this moment is priceless.

Important Reminders:

  • Use encouraging words to express themselves.
  • Ask questions about their stories.
  • Ask if you can be part of their stories.
  • Make time for storytelling.
  • Encourage your child to express themselves in different ways such as drawing or painting.
Why would your child lie?

Why would your child lie?

If a Child Lies to Exaggerate Stories or Refocus Attention

Sometimes, it's a half truth embellished with exaggerations, or a downplaying of what actually happened. At this stage, children exercise their “storytelling” skills to put focus on themselves or avoid further scrutiny.

What Parents Should Do:

Even with incriminating evidence, kids can hatch ridiculous excuses. Simply point out the facts and avoid interrogating the child. By providing evidence and logical reasoning, you can help the child realize that you know that they are lying.

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Children who embellish their stories may have issues about not having enough attention. As such, ensure you stay connected with your child. On the other hand, those stories that downplay their role may reveal behaviors they wish to conceal from you. Thus, learn what your child is up to.

Important Reminders:

  • Listen to your child, even if it sounds preposterous.
  • Focus on the facts and evidence.
  • Be clear that telling a lie is not appreciated and not encouraged.
  • Learn why the child had to resort to lying instead of telling the truth.
  • Be present and be available for your child—allow them to feel they can trust you with the truth.

If a Child Lies to Cover Up a Mistake

It can be alarming when children lie about breaking one of your rules. Deliberately telling a lie to deceive is a cause for concern. It raises other questions and concerns. And, chances are, this won’t be the last time. Understand that your child has reasons, no matter how questionable they may be. Moreover, you may investigate deeper into what prompted your child to choose to lie to you.

What Parents Should Do:

Surely our kids have thought about this. A few audacious ones have even tried it. So, keep calm. Now you know how your parents felt.

Rules are there to keep people safe. So what do you do when children lie to cover up infractions? Perhaps clarifying the rules warrants a second round of discussion.

Likewise, rather than losing your temper, give consequences for their breach of the rules. And as you do this, remember to focus on the behavior instead of on the child.

  • For example, you can say that “their actions are disappointing” instead of saying that they are disappointing.
  • By focusing on the behavior, you are trying to correct the actions while preventing a gap between you and the child to emerge.
  • Moreover, this underscores that their actions can elicit negative emotions and reactions from you, the authority figure.

Important Reminders:

  • Rules need to be clear, so ask the child to restate it in their own words to verify understanding.
  • Give consequences that are proportional to the offense or infraction.
  • Talk to the child privately and away from their friends—publicly shaming the child is not advisable.
Learn what prompted the child to lie.

Learn what prompted the child to lie.

If a Child Lies Because Someone Told Them To

Have you asked your child to lie for you? Have you ever asked your child not to tell their mother that you’re sneaking a smoke or two in the garage? How about asking your child to tell your neighbor that you are not home so they won’t bother you?

This behavior is lying and it should not become a habit. What’s concerning is when other people prompt or even coerce your child to lie.

What Parents Should Do:

For starters, ask who told them to lie.

  • Chances are, it is someone whom they know. Perhaps it is a person of authority—a parent, relative, or sibling.
  • Be on guard if a stranger prompted your child to lie. If this is the case, call the authorities.
  • Also, learn why your child agreed to lie for them.

At least one academic study showed that children trusted individuals who lied to benefit another person. Conversely, they did not trust the person who lied for their personal gain. This study suggests that children are susceptible to being manipulated, especially when they perceive that the lie is for a noble cause. Thus, identify the reason the child agreed to lie for another person in the first place.

Finally, parents must explain that their actions will result in appropriate consequences.

Important Reminders:

  • Always keep your cool.
  • Obtain facts from reputable sources and focus on them.
  • Help your child to say no to a request to lie.
  • Keep tabs on the people your child is interacting with—talk to their teachers, friends, parents of friends, and classmates.

If A Child Lies to Manipulate Others

When your child learns to manipulate others by lying, that is a source of concern. Recall the last time your child fake-cried so you’d attend to them. These fake tears are a way to receive attention and put you under their spell. I fell prey to this with my daughter, but I learned my lesson. This manipulation can morph into lying for selfish gains.

What Parents Should Do:

It is quite disconcerting to experience this. Lying at this stage has morphed into something more serious. It’s no longer an innocent utilization of creativity and imagination. Rather, it has become a tool for personal gain.

Understanding the reason why the child opted to lie instead of telling the truth will reveal underlying issues they may have. Exploring this is essential in order to curb this behavior. It opens up questions about parent-child communication. In addition, it brings to focus the trust between the parent and child. Parents must help the child understand that lying is a moral choice that they’ll make, and consequences await them should they lie. Taking responsibility for their actions is a must.

Important Reminders:

  • Find ways to strengthen communication between you and your child.
  • Find the root cause of the behavior.
  • Understand your child’s concerns and issues.
  • Provide an avenue for your child to open up.

General Guidelines When Your Child Lies

  • Learn to listen to your child. Usually, parents will uncover the reason why they chose to lie.
  • Get as much information and facts as possible. This will aid in analyzing and scrutinizing the information shared by your child. Soliciting information from another person to corroborate is a prudent course of action.
  • Avoid hasty judgments. Even if the story is far-fetched, refrain from judging the child. Allow the child to explain. Be fair and be understanding. Also, avoid using labels to address or describe the child.
  • Explain the importance and value of telling the truth. Talk about anecdotes such as “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” or similar stories. Be as concrete as possible so they will understand.
  • Focus on the behavior and not on the child. Children commit mistakes; who doesn’t? As the child learns about social expectations, relationships, authority, and rules, parents must become a guide for them. They will stray and it is our task to put them back on the right path. Remember to focus on the behavior to rectify.
  • Be clear with your consequences and be consistent. As the child grows older, they become aware that actions have repercussions. Avoid confusion through clarity and consistency. Both parents must agree on the consequences and show consistency in implementing rules.

When children lie, parents must uncover the root cause of the behavior. Whether it is an innocent fib, or something more serious, emphasizing the importance of speaking the truth is essential. Parents must help the child separate fiction from fact.

Likewise, the accuracy of information is paramount. Learn to listen with compassion.

When children lie, it is our obligation to put them back in the right direction.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 JP Carlos


JP Carlos (author) from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on March 15, 2021:

Hello there Millicent Okello, Thank you for reading. Parents and teachers need to help the child understand reality from fantasy. We help the child do this by creating boundaries when it comes to acknowledging their "stories". We can tell them that their stories are wonderful imaginations or they have awesome creativity. Furthermore, children use their imagination to express their emotions and experiences. As adults we have to be very sensitive to what these imagery may mean. Whether they use role play, imaginary friends or using cartoon characters, we need to dig deeper into what they want to tell us. To a certain extent, their play reflects what they see and what they experience.

JP Carlos (author) from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on March 15, 2021:

HI there EK Jadoon, I am glad my article was able to help you. I encounter a lot of students who lie. And often, I have to talk to their parents about it. Going to the root cause of the behavior is essential to rectify it.

JP Carlos (author) from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on March 15, 2021:

Hello Devika Primić, That is true, insecurities can prompt a child to lie. What's important is that parents and teachers work together to help the child.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on March 12, 2021:

Informative and children lie when they are insecure.

EK Jadoon from Abbottabad Pakistan on March 12, 2021:

Hi Jp,

This was a great read, especially for mothers. I was worried about my child. She is growing up. How to tackle the situation when your child is hiding something; this was worring me a lot.

Your article covers the answers of most of my questions.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


Millicent Okello from Nairobi, Kenya on March 12, 2021:

Hi Carlos

It's indeed true that children lie to cover up what they have done. But what do you do if the child has become so exposed to the lies in the name of imaginary characters world? A very informative pieces of writing Jp Carlos. Thank you.

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