My child is lying

· What are we to do when we catch our kids lying - despite being very clear that lying isn't acceptable? The temptation is to want to punish. But before you get furious - you do well to get curious and ask yourself these game changing questions ·

May, 07, 2020

Most parents are filled with dread when we catch our child lying. Especially if we notice that this isn’t a one off – but something our child does regularly despite our pleas to tell the truth.

Instead of getting curious – we get furious. Blinded by the act itself we forget that lying is rarely malicious but something we all feel tempted to do if the stakes are high and it feels unsafe to tell the truth.

So what are some of the most common reasons why children lie and what can we do as parents to discourage this behaviour?

The problem is – we ask the wrong questions

“Did I not make it clear enough that lying isn’t acceptable? “

“How can this be – the I make a point of not lying and repeatedly tell my children that honesty is the best policy?

When we ask these questions we are inclined to punish and criticise because we assume that the lying is done TO us and is an act of disrespect. The trouble is – when we go down this route our child will have further confirmation that sharing things with us is not safe – and therefore lying becomes more tempting.

Think of yourself

“Oh no.. I completely forgot to ring back the lawyer about our wills”

..I confessed the other day as I sat down with my husband. What I hoped he would say was:

“Let’s get on it first thing tomorrow morning”

What actually happened was:

“You HAVE to set reminders on your phone for these types of things”


.. this is how most arguments start for most of us. Our wounds get activated. The fact that it’s implied that I’m forgetful (while true historically) is taken as judgement and rather than sharing my mistakes -I’d now be tempted to lie.

Because here’s thing:

  • Lying is rarely malicious
  • Lying protects us from feeling judged and shamed

And for children it is no different.

Here’s what we can do to encourage truth telling

Rather than responding to your child with anger and disappointment when you catch your child lying try first asking yourself the following questions:

  • Am I making it safe to admit mistakes (or do I moralise, correct and criticise?)
  • Am I making it safe to admit mistakes (or do I moralise, correct and criticise?)
  • Do I hold realistic expectations of my child – or would my child feel that he/she does not measure up?

This is not the same as saying lying is acceptable. But it is far more likely that our children begin to tell the truth more often – when we too are willing to ask ourselves these questions.

Often we underestimate the courage it takes to tell the truth about things that we know other’s won’t approve of. It is therefore a good idea to honour the courage it took your child whenever they do tell the truth – and rather than penalising the wrong doing – focussing more on the fact that you appreciate that your child felt it safe enough to come to you with this.

Not all lying is about not feeling safe to tell the truth

For young children (under 5) lying can feel like a new super power. Up until this age a child is generally not able to lie and deceive – and when they discover that they can manipulate the minds of others this newly acquired skill often gets exercised for some time.

In these situations it is often better not to call it a lie – but to smile knowingly and go with rather than against in a playful way.

Louise Brooks

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