Children: Lying And Honesty

Explanation of why children sometimes lie, when to be concerned, and how to teach the value of honesty.

It is perhaps one of the more serious concerns parents have in regards to their children and it involves lying. Parents not only fear that their youngsters will be deviant and dishonest with them in their daily lives, but also that they may grow up to become manipulative, stealing, and untrustworthy adults.

Although dishonesty can be seen on television and witnessed in the school playground, children's first lessons about lying are usually taught in the home. Those little white lies about not being home when an acquaintance telephones who you do not wish to speak to, or the one about the gift your relative gave you that you simply detest despite the smile on your face "" well, they all add up in your child's eyes. While there is a certain social grace or politeness that involves not hurting other people's feelings and not speaking up unless there is something nice to say, this can all be very confusing to young children who are just beginning to understand the world around them.

Just as a child who outrightly lies to you can be very frustrating, one who is blatantly honest can be just as embarrassing. Imagine your preschooler confessing to your best friend that Mommy really thinks her new dress or hairstyle looks funny. Or maybe she'll be asking Grandma about what it means to "˜french kiss,' or worse yet, "˜have intercourse.' Children are far from the most tactful of individuals, but by nature they are actually very honest creatures. Frequently parents tend to misinterpret their child's creative imagination for an intentional and purposeful attempt at lying. Children as old as seven or eight, and particularly preschoolers very much enjoy pretend play and making up stories. Young children may blend fantasy into reality through the use of play primarily because it is fun (after all who didn't play "˜house' or "˜cops and robbers' as a child?), but also because it is a form of learning. In essence it is how they learn to become autonomous adults.

If your child is big story teller, it probably warrants little concern. It may be beneficial, however, to take different instances to point out to them the difference between reality and fantasy, and the television makes for an excellent opportunity to do so. Another possibility involves setting aside specific times for imaginary play. Perhaps even allowing some fun dress-up costumes to add to the scene will be helpful. It is important not to forfeit this opportunity or criticize your child's story telling for two reasons. For one, daydreaming and our imagination are key elements in terms of who we are and in terms of our well-being -- even as adults. Being able to pretend we are somewhere else or sometimes even with someone else is often liberating, as well as it is stress-releasing. Secondly, being overly critical of our children's needs to stretch the truth every now and again can rebound. If a child feels that he or she must always save face around you or any adult this may be sufficient cause for them to increase their level of dishonesty simply in order to avoid being reprimanded.

Aside from the creative aspect of dishonesty, the major reason children lie is to escape punishment. Children are primarily motivated by the principles of either pleasure or pain, and while they may gravitate towards that which is enjoyable it is just as natural for them to avoid that which is not. Consequently, it is worth analyzing the form of discipline that you enforce on your children and considering just how severe it is. Chances are the harsher you are parenting, the more motivated your children will be to avoid you when they do wrong. When possible allow the natural consequences of their actions to occur to your child. If, for instance, they take something from a store without paying, have them be the ones to return it and confront the store manager.

If your child is falling into a pattern of lying, take a hard look at the demands that have been placed upon him or her by parents, teachers, instructors, and friends. These days, children are often put into a variety of after-school activities and it may just be that some cannot keep up with the varying pressures to perform and may resort to lying in order to maintain a certain self-image. Other children may lie because they are bored or do not feel that they are receiving adequate attention. Certainly, a child who has gained attention from telling elaborate stories and untruths may continue to do so to maintain parental or social interest. Keeping track of your child's behavior, including the times and places when he or she is most likely to embellish the truth may be helpful in deciphering whether or not a serious problem exists. Perhaps your child only lies during creative playtime, or perhaps it is more critically when he is caught in mischief, or when he is with friends and trying to be the center of social attention. Each of these circumstances would require a somewhat different approach in regards to addressing the issue of lying and possibly even a personal look at one's own parenting skills.

The following are some significant points to consider when dealing with a dishonest child:


In order for children to understand that lying can be wrong, unethical, or immoral, they need to be informed. Be sure to discuss with your children your own beliefs in regards to dishonesty and offer them real-life and age-appropriate examples. It may be worth including a "truth" policy as a major component of your family values, just ensure your children have a definition of truth that they can comprehend and abide by.


It is almost pointless to discuss or emphasize the importance of honesty with children if they live with parents or caregivers who lie about their whereabouts, steal from stores or more commonly from their place of employment, or who cheat -- be it on their taxes or even on their spouses. Without a doubt it is difficult to lead a life of virtue, but if you bear children it may be worth the effort as they tend to like watching even when you are not.


Although this title may be a little shocking to some and may even warrant some criticism, it is important to explain to children the difference between a malicious and hurtful lie versus one that is meant out of politeness. We all may like to deny the fact that we tell lies, even the white ones but truth be told we all do. After all, what is the point of telling your neighbor who just asked if you like the new trim on their house that you do not? Or even telling the post officer, who, while handing you your mail and casually asked how you were doing, that you are really actually doing awful and are in dire need of serious psychological help. There are certain social niceties that transpire out of respect and mutual kindness that do not always involve the naked truths. Offering your child this information and openly discussing the difference with them may better help them understand the somewhat hypocritical notion of honesty.


Allowing your child to witness the difference between what is real versus that which is not is a much needed basis before she or he is able to distinguish whether or not they have been truthful. Young children will need to be taught this on a variety of occasions which makes books and television good learning tools. Discussing dreams after sleep time is another great example for children to learn from.

It is also important that when you expect something from your child that you use reality-based statements (i.e. "I expect / want you to. . ." / versus, "I wish you could .. . ").


If your child is having a particularly hard time telling the truth, be sure to offer them a lot of praise each and every time they do manage to be truthful. Approval can be very appealing, particularly when the dishonest behavior is being completely ignored. Children like attention.


Make it a rule in your home that everyone (including the adults) ask before taking something that belongs to another member of the family. This teaches children to mind the possessions of others and to be respectful of each person's things. It will also nicely carry over the value that stealing from anyone is wrong.


Immediate gratification has been very valued in our society, so much so that many of us have little savings, are overweight, and have a lot of trouble saying no. It is especially difficult for children to postpone their wants or desires and to own up to their wrongdoings as many of them have not yet learned the skills required for admitting mistakes or postponing gratification. The best we can offer our children as parents involves teaching them about the different options that they have in terms of fulfilling their wants and fulfilling them in socially respectful ways. Children do not have to steal before we can ask them about what they would do in that circumstance and what better ways they may have handled such an occurrence. Discussing such hypothetical topics with children before they become a very present situation to deal with may actually prevent them from happening in the first place. Be open with your children. Teach them to problem solve.


If you have an older child who continually lies and is dishonest, professional help from a school counselor or another may be needed. On the other hand, all of us have lied as teenagers and most often we have done so out of a need for privacy. Teens are not always willing to share their personal friendship or boyfriend/girlfriend tales with their parents, and this is understandable. After all, it is a time when they are changing very quickly and are grasping with the notion of adulthood, while still considered a child by most. It is a difficult time period when secret-keeping is very common. To a certain extent, respect of this need is required. If your child is lying a little bit too much and about a variety of different things it may be worth setting up a contract with them, wherein your expectations as well as the consequences are clearly defined and signed. For example, perhaps your child will only be allowed to go to a school dance it she gets through the week without lying. Ensure they understand the consequences and do not make them overly outrageous. Also, if your child is hanging around other adolescents who lie you may need to separate them or discourage such friendships.

Overall, dealing with a child who does not tell the truth is difficult and can be frustrating. Be sure to teach your child the importance of trust in relationships, including the trust they should have in themselves. Avoid putting your child in situations where deceit or exaggerations can occur (i.e. highly competitive sports), and do not blame your child for lying unless you have determined for sure that they are responsible for the situation. Have any discussion involving dishonesty privately and finally, do not make your children fearful to tell the truth.

© High Speed Ventures 2011