Don’t Ask a Liar To Lie:  3 Tips to Address Lying

Consider your child’s history and emotional age.  It is important to parent to his/her emotional age so you can help “unlock” those stuck places.

Ever caught your child in a lie only to have him/her lie about lying?

This is one of those parenting moments that sends most parents over the edge!

And, it often launches moms and dads into an abyss of questioning: Why are you lying?  Why did you do that?  Why can’t you tell the truth?  Haven’t we talked about this? Don’t you want us to be able to trust you?….

To which, most children frequently respond with an “I don’t know.” 

And in that moment, that is probably a truthful statement.

Children lie for a variety of reasons.  Most of us have told a lie as kids (or, let’s be honest, even as adults) because we were worried about getting in trouble over something, and we were hoping to avoid the consequences. There are many mistakes to be made and lessons to learn while growing up, and truth telling is one we all face. 

However, children who seem to frequently lie, or lie for no apparent reason may be giving us some deeper clues about other possibilities – which could include trauma and/or developmental lags.

Rather than getting pulled down the abyss, consider how you can help your child catch up, or re-wire and learn that he is safe to speak the truth, as well as what the benefits of honesty include.  Many children need extra grace and practice being a truth teller.

Here are 4 quick tips to address lying:

1. Look for opportunities to teach the value of truth telling.  Teachable moments that highlight the value of being a “truth-teller” are all around us.  Talk about your family value of telling the truth.  Help your child more deeply understand how being an honest person and a person of integrity can bring good things to his life.  Talk about how people who are trustworthy often enjoy better friendships and more opportunities because others can trust them.  Perhaps as you are watching a movie or reading a book together there will be a character that is presented with a critical moment –  to tell the truth or a lie.  You can discuss what the character might be feeling or worried about, and what possible scenarios could unfold based upon the choice made.  Having language to refer back to that represents this family value is helpful.  I like to say, “In our family we are truth tellers.”  Remember, children learn best when everyone is calm, connected, and engaging in some fun.

2. Model being a truth teller.  We all know children will do what we do, not just what we say. Being mindful to model integrity and honesty in our interactions is important. If the cashier accidentally hands you back an overage of change – return what is not yours.  If you accidentally leave the store with an item you did not purchase – walk back in and pay for it.  Let your child observe you going the extra mile to be a truth teller.  As parents we can undermine our own efforts by doing things like having a child pretend she is younger so she can eat off the child’s menu at the restaurant or get the cheaper ticket at the movie theatre. Modeling honesty may cost you some extra steps or pennies along the way; but in the end, it will save you a lot. 

3. Don’t ask a liar to lie.  If your child has a tendency to lie and you know she has done something inappropriate or you have caught her in a lie – make a statement.  For example, “Your teacher called today and I know you hit Mary at recess when she wouldn’t share the ball.”  Do not say, “Did anything happen at recess today?”

Or, “I see that you were on the iPad 30 extra minutes without permission.”  Do not say, “Did you go over your screen time limit?”  Posing such a question to a child who already struggles with lying is a set up for both of you.  Chances are she is going to lie and chances are you may then find yourself angry that she lied about the incident.  Simply make a statement. This will cut down on some of the back and forth frustration (remember, don’t chase the rabbits) and allow you to more directly address the issue without getting sidetracked. 

4.  Give your child a moment to reflect and try again.  Instead of blowing up when you have caught your child in a lie, take a deep breath.  Remind your child of your family value (which you have been talking about and teaching in the dailiness of life) and give him a moment to reflect and try again.  In a scenario where a child has been confronted and has lied, it would sound like: “Jordan, I see that you used the iPad without permission (statement).  I’m going to give you a moment to think about your response.  Remember, in our family we are truth tellers.  I’ll come back in a bit.  Then let’s try again.”  Both of you take a moment to cool off so you can re-engage in a more connected manner.  You want to send the signal that your child is safe to be honest with you – that you will applaud that honesty (even though you will still need to address what occurred).  If your child self-corrects, this would be an opportunity to praise your child for telling the truth.

For children who come from hard places,  we commonly see developmental lags.  Though the child may be in an 8 or 9 year old body, some are closer to 3 or 4 years old emotionally.  Also, many children who have experienced trauma have learned to say what they think the adult wants to hear.  This has helped them survive, and is a behavior that they need support in changing.

Most of us don’t get morally offended when a 3 year old denies eating the cookie, even though the crumbs are all over his face.  We teach the child and guide him through what he needs to do or what we need to hear next time.  Consider your child’s history and emotional age.  It is important to parent to her emotional age so you can help “unlock” those stuck places.

If you are wondering if your child’s pattern of lying is outside of the norm, or if you’re looking for a child therapist or family therapist in Tampa to help you take steps to address your child’s behavioral challenges, I’d love for you to schedule a free 15 minute phone consultation with me.


Walking with you,