Lying In Children: What To Do

Parents worry when they hear their children lying. Learn how to rephrase questions so that truth telling is encouraged as well as how to handle blatant lying.

Unlike other species that travel across the earth, only human beings are capable of lying. Moreover, human beings suffer the consequences and residual shame of what a lie can destroy in terms of trust from others. Left uncorected, a person can learn to make lying a habit, since the person can become enured to the consequential shame and learn to focus on its short-term benefits.

The purpose of this article is to teach parents how to stop lying in a child, and therefore, prevent lying from becoming habit forming. Parents will learn tips for handling a discovery of lying. These tips will depend upon the age and stage of development of the child. The author also trusts that the reader will walk away with a sense of demystifying what lying is so that reactions to it will be less shocking.

Lying, which is the act of defying what is known and understood and presenting an alternative in its stead, first arises in toddlerhood. A toddler uses visual or auditory cues to determine the 'right' answer. Therefore, a toddler will lie in order to provide the 'correct' answer. For instance, if a stern-faced or voiced care giver asks, "Have you eaten a cookie?" The toddler will answer, "No!," even if he/she has chocolate smeared across his/her mouth. Often, the child is not meaning to lie but is looking for a way to remove the sternness from the caregiver's face or voice.

If a parent has a child toddler-aged, they are in a position to easily stop lying from the rest of the stages of development. Do not fear if your children are beyond the ages of toddlerhood. It is simply easier to prevent lying from becoming habit forming at this stage of growth. A parent can learn to not ask a toddler questions to which the parent already knows the answers.

For instance, as in the example above, the parent could have easily looked at the missing cookie space, walked the toddler to the nearest mirror and said to him/her, "A cookie is missing. Your face shows chocalate smears! I told you to ask me first and yet you took it anyway!" Now the parent and child are ready to discuss rule following rather than lying as well as rule following.

In essence, lying prevents deeper discussions from ensuing. It puts the focus on the reactions to it rather than on the reason why lying was used in the first place. A parent would do well to show that lying is unnecessary in the household, as reactions to truth telling are not insurmountable for the child. In other words, if a child comes forward to admit that they took something that wasn't theirs or said something that wasn't kind, parents would serve truth telling well if this coming forward were greeted with family discussion rather than arguing and fighting. In fact, for parents' benefit, it is well within your rights to tell a child that you need time to process that with which they came forward and that a discussion will be tabled until everyone is ready.



Too often, parents assume that they must have the answers and reactions immediately, and this misguided notion encourages dissension in the home. It is well to remember that it is okay to research the consequences of lying or to research times when truth telling were not popular but ultimately rewarding. Allowing the child to view you as an ally in their development is one way to hone the bonded trust between the two of you.

What if the child is older and appears to be rather glib in the ability to lie? This scenario means that the child has learn to avoid overreaction to lying by focusing on its short-term benefits. In other words, lying is now a habit. Signs of this evolvement are lying for no necessary gain and the use of lying to create an image of themselves that will appeal to peers or make others uncertain or uneasy.

Parents would do well to serve a child who has a habit of lying to purchase for them a small journal in which to write down each and every incident of lying. Parents need to make it clear to the child that they will not read the journal unless given permission to do so. The purpose of the journal keeping is to unveil to the child how much lying is controlling their world and relationships. In essence, it is a visual aid for how often lying is occurring. Ask the child that, as they write, to look for patterns across time. Are there certain persons that are lied to more often than others? Are there certain times of day when they are vulnerable to lying more than others? Discuss with the child how you and they can surmount these obstacles without either feeling as though they have lost a power struggle.

Sometimes parents are unsure of the boundaries for tolerance for lying. They may be struggling with their own tendencies of telling 'white lies' versus telling 'whoppers' or 'fish tales.' Using a neutral setting as a forum can sometimes alleviate the tension of the erosion of trust. Parents often are surprised at how easily a child will share thoughts and feeling in a car setting. Perhaps, the child feels less confronted when they are not having to look a parent directly in the eye. This possibility becomes an avenue for truth telling in that a parent can share the possibility of this observation while, at the same time, encouraging the child to look at why its so uncomfortable looking another in the eye.

Demonstrate to the child in a neutral tone the number of times you know they have lied. However, put a twist on this discussion by illustrating ways they could have told the truth and saved themselves from the consequences of shame. Children who have formed a habit of lying often lack tools for truth telling. They may not understand how to share thoughts and feelings in a constructive way and may use lying as a method for shielding this lack.

Role modeling for a child how you convey your thoughts and feelings in difficult situations may go a long way to empowering the child to do so. If the child is older, present them with figures in history or current heroes who demmonstrate an irascible way of truth telling that ends up working for them rather than against. A figure who comes immediately to mind is that of Benjamin Franklin who rankled the upper echelon, and yet, was valued for his wisdom.

It is also beneficial if you have lied in your history to share the reference. Children tend to not view parents as human. Dethroning yourself can sometimes demonstrate to a child how un-unique their situation is. Children who form a habit of lying tend to believe that everyone else can tell the truth but somehow they cannot. Illustrating for the child a time when lying occurred in your past can go along way to ensuring for the child that eventual truth telling is a possibility for them.

However, a word of caution should also be mentioned. If a parent is thinking of sharing a time when lying occurred in the parent's past, make certain that the knowledge of the lie will not do further harm to the child. It is not beneficial for a child to learn of an affair in your history or learn of possible birth records which might alter for the child an understanding of his/her origins. The purpose of the sharing is to enable greater communication between parent and child. Remember, at all costs, do no harm.

In conclusion, truth telling comes in different shapes and sizes. Some tell the truth in artistic ways. For example, some children possess a gift for drawing, painting, writing, photographing, etc. in which they convey their vision to others in creative ways. Parents should make known to the child how important their endeavors in these areas are. The most long lasting intervention that a parent can provide to the child is the act of love. Love has a way of mending broken trust issues that no psychologist or discipline can touch. The gift of love is truth telling at its finest. Share it with your children freely and without measure.

© High Speed Ventures 2011