Why Kids Lie and What to Do About It

Catching your kid in a lie can be shocking– unless you know why it’s happening.

The first time you catch them with their hand in the proverbial cookie jar and they deny it, well, it can feel like the end of innocence. As parents, we worry that they will grow up to be snake oil salesmen, conning their classmates and hustling the adults around them.

That fear is actually unfounded. Kids lie for many reasons, some of them more benign than others, but our response to it is what really matters. Here are some basic explanations for why kids might bend or break with the truth, and what the experts recommend we do.

Fibbing for selfish reasons. When they are toddlers, you will often see them telling little lies to get out of hand washing or sharing a coveted object. It’s normal, and the best thing we can do is show them the consequences without blowing it out of proportion. “Now the plate is broken and it needs to be cleaned up” is better than insisting they fess up.

Lying to experiment. Preschoolers are at a stage where they are exploring the as-of-yet unclear boundaries between reality and imagination. This is where imaginary friends come in, and where unicorns and transforming robots are as real as the carrots on their plates. Don’t take it too seriously. Fantasizing is really part of the growing project so unless you are seeing these make-believe stories take on a negative hue, just roll with it.

Lying to protect an ally. As they age, kids are developing empathy, and becoming more aware of social dynamics. They will move to protect their friends or siblings if they think they can deflect consequences. Suss out what actually happened, but in resolving, point out that their hearts were in the right place.

Lying to create a private life. You’ll see this in older children who are approaching adolescence, that they start sequestering information away from adults. This is actually considered a sign of maturity, where they are keeping secrets to gain independence. So again, unless you are seeing other behaviors emerge that indicate a deeper problem, give them the space they need to create their own identities.  

Lying to avoid guilt. It’s important to separate the lie from the incident. If they missed their curfew, there is a consequence. If they miss a curfew and then lie about it, that is an additional consequence.

For the most part, if we are doing our jobs in terms of guiding conscience-bound behaviors, our kids will outgrow the lying, and fess up to their misdeeds. We can reinforce honesty and responsibility, but like with most things, let them arrive at the effects of their actions on their own. If you need to process your own hurt feelings about your kid lying to you (and it does hurt) do it with your partner or a friend. Understanding that lying really is par for the course will make those non-truths a little easier to take. Parent wisely and they will outgrow it.

About Susie Almaneih

Susie Almaneih spent several years during her young adulthood teaching children dance at her church group, as well as other cultural-based activities. Susie now spends as much time as she can giving back to the families in her community. Over the years, this love for community has evolved into a deeper love for delivering positive and creative content and awareness to families of all ages.

Leave a Reply