If you’re a parent, there’s a very high degree of probability that you’re going to catch your kids lying at some point in their lives.
Whether your child is telling an outlandish story about something that happened in preschool, or telling you a direct lie to avoid being punished, rest assured that lying is a normal part of childhood development and not something you need to beat yourself up over. The trick is to figure out the reason behind your child’s lies so you can proactively find ways to change his or her behavior.
Keep reading for 20 tips and consequences to get your children to stop lying to you once and for all!
Why Do Kids Lie?
While it can be pretty off-putting the first time you catch your kids lying, it’s important to remember that your child is most likely exhibiting normal childhood behavior, and that it probably has nothing to do with you and your parenting style. That being said, if you notice your child is lying more often than you feel comfortable with, it’s always a good idea to dig deeper and try to figure out WHY the behavior is occurring so you can determine if you need to intervene.
Here are 5 different reasons your child may be lying to you:
Telling tales. When younger children lie, it’s usually pretty obvious and outlandish. A child may blur the lines between reality and fiction in an attempt to bring their imaginary worlds to life, and while it may seem troublesome to a parent, it’s usually nothing to worry about. Take the time to listen to the stories your child tells, gently remind him/her which parts are fantasy, and look for any underlying themes that may be of interest. Your child may be using his/her imagination to try and work through life changes (new baby, new home, starting school, divorce of parents, death of a relative, etc.), and you can use this as an opportunity to open up the lines of communication between you and your child.
Avoiding punishment. Lying to avoid getting into trouble is extremely common in kids, and we discuss strategies to help avoid this kind of behavior below.
Saving face. Sometimes kids lie because they don’t want to upset you, or to help them look good in front of their peers and/or authority figures. This is especially common in children who struggle with low self-esteem.
Avoiding unpleasant discussions. Your child may be lying as a way to avoid engaging in a discussion with you about something stressful or difficult to him or her, and your reaction can perpetuate the cycle rather than solve the situation. Instead of focusing on the fact that your child is lying, pay close attention to what those lies are trying to tell you about your child and what he/she might be struggling with.
Impulsivity. There’s a lot of literature online about the relationship between ADHD and lying, which goes above and beyond the scope of this post, but I still wanted to mention it. Whether your child has an official ADHD diagnosis, or simply has a tendency towards impulsive behavior, he or she may be lying as a way to cover up his or her impulsivity and/or inability to complete certain tasks. These children are subjected to a lot of negative feedback throughout the day, and will do anything to cover up their mistakes to avoid further punishment for things beyond their control.
9 Tips to Get Your Child to Stop Lying
Don’t react. When you catch your kids lying, your initial instinct will probably be to reprimand them in an attempt to avoid the situation from occurring again. And while this may be an effective approach with some children, it isn’t always the best option. A much better strategy is to take a deep breath and evaluate the kind of lie your child told before you determine the best reaction. You may opt to ignore the lie and redirect your child if the lie was small, or you may decide you need to dig deeper into the root cause, in which case you may table it for another time.
Remain calm. Whether you are addressing your child’s lying in the moment, or discussing it at a later time, it’s important to stay calm. If you react negatively by shouting at your child, telling him or her how disappointed you feel, etc., your child may engage in similar behavior in the future to avoid the same kind of reaction out of you. While you want to encourage honesty, you want your child to feel safe telling you when he or she has made a mistake.
Dig deep. Have you ever heard of The Iceberg Model? It’s quite fascinating. According to this theory, the poor behaviors we see in our children are only the ‘tip’ of a much bigger iceberg. And since only about 10% of an iceberg is visible to the naked eye, it is theorized that the drivers of our child’s behaviors live beneath the surface, and that we must find a way to see and understand these drivers before change can occur. Your child may be lying to avoid disappointing you, to boost his or her self-esteem, to protect someone else, etc. Take the time to listen to what your child isn’t telling you.
Establish clear and consistent ground rules. If you want to get your child to stop lying, you need to establish a set of house rules in which you clearly define the rules by which you wish your home to be governed. Spend some time brainstorming the behaviors your child struggles with most (lying), and then put together a list of rules you expect him or her to abide by each day. Keep the list somewhere visible to your child and revisit it together often. If you find your child struggling to follow the house rules you’ve set forth, consider turning it into a reward chart whereby your child earns a small reward for successfully following a certain number of rules each day (i.e. if your child earns 4 of 6 check marks, he or she gets an additional 15 minutes on his or her iPad after school).
Be a good role model. I think this goes without saying, but if you want your children to be honest, it’s important that you engage in the same behaviors yourself. This can be particularly tricky when it comes to white lies as the lines are a bit blurry as to when these kinds of untruths are acceptable. My best advice is to avoid telling any lies and fibs in front of your children, and to take the time to discuss and explain if and when you need to cross the line (i.e. to protect someone else’s feelings).
Talk it through. Whether you suspect your child is being dishonest, or he or she has admitted to telling you a lie, make sure to keep the lines of communication open. Discuss what happened, work together to brainstorm ways you will each handle the situation differently next time, and be careful to keep the dialogue light and positive so your little one feels comfortable and secure in coming to you the next time he or she makes a mistake. Remember that trust is a two-way street!
Avoid trying to catch your child in a lie. Instead of deliberately trying to catch your child in a lie and inflaming the situation, choose a different approach. For example, if you asked your child to clean his or her room before dinner and you know this hasn’t happened, consider going up to your child’s room and framing the conversation in a positive way. You might say something like, ‘Hey, I just wanted to come up and tell you that dinner will be ready in 30 minutes and ask you what your plan is to get your room picked up beforehand like I asked? Is there anything I can do to help you get started?’ The idea is not to draw attention to the fact that your request hasn’t been completed, or to nag, but rather to remind and offer help.
Praise truthful behavior. Reinforcement is a fabulous technique to use to encourage the kind of behaviors we want to see in our children. And while both positive and negative forms of reinforcement can help teach children self-control, research tends to suggest that positive reinforcement – the act of rewarding a child when he or she completes a desired behavior as a means of increasing the likelihood he or she will repeat the behavior again – is the most effective. Make sure to offer your child praise when he or she tells the truth, especially when it’s difficult for him or her to do. And if you are really struggling with lying kids in your household, a sticker chart may help curb the behavior! We talk more about reward charts HERE.
Provide a second chance. If your child tells you something you know for certain is a lie, try giving him or her a second chance to come clean. Say something like, ‘Hmmmmm. I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate. I’m going to give you a few minutes to rethink what you told me and then we’ll talk again.’ Keep your emotions out of the conversation and remember to offer positive praise if your child is successful in telling you the truth the second time to reinforce the idea that truthful behavior leads to positive interactions.
How to Use Consequences for Lying Kids
Learn how to use consequences properly. Unlike punishment, which is aimed at making a child suffer in retaliation for inappropriate behavior, consequences offer an opportunity for children to learn from their mistakes. When used properly, consequences can teach children responsibility, accountability, and problem-solving, but not all parents and caregivers use this approach effectively. Here are a few Dos and Don’ts about implementing consequences for bad behaviors such as lying:
- Criticize. Remember that the goal behind using consequences is to provide an opportunity for your child to learn from their mistakes, not lower their self-esteem.
- Blow things out of proportion. As tempting as it may be to remove privileges and ground your child when you catch him or her in a lie, take a deep breath and think before you act.
- Delay consequences. In order for consequences to be effective, they need to be implemented immediately after the undesirable behavior occurred.
- Ignore bad behavior. If your child is engaging in undesirable behavior that isn’t dangerous or harmful to himself or others, ignore it. Do not engage him or her and avoid eye contact until he or she stops the behavior in favor of something more acceptable, at which time you should offer praise and positive interaction.
- Use praise and rewards. Taking the time to point out and praise or reward your child when he or she behaves appropriately not only boosts his or her self-esteem, but it also teaches him or her what your expectations are and makes him or her more motivated to seek out desirable instead of undesirable behaviors.
- Be consistent and follow through. In order for consequences to work, you must resist the urge to intervene and always follow through!
Make sure the consequence is relevant. While consequences can be extremely effective in warding off undesirable behaviors like lying, most parents don’t know how to use them effectively. They either don’t implement them soon enough, the consequence doesn’t match up to the behavior, or the parent uses the consequence as a way to shame the child. A much better option is to use natural and logical consequences.
Natural consequences are those that occur inevitably as a result of a child’s behaviors or actions (i.e. if a child refuses to eat, she’ll feel hungry), while logical consequences are designed to help children replace poor behaviors with more appropriate ones (i.e. if a child fails a test, he or she is required to spend more time studying). Natural consequences tend to be more effective, but since they don’t always occur as a result of poor behaviors, logical consequences are an excellent positive parenting technique to use to get kids to stop lying.
For example, if you find your child playing on his or her iPad when he or she should be doing homework, and your child proceeds to lie and say his or her homework is done when you know for certain it isn’t, a good logical consequence would be to remove the iPad for the remainder of the day as the privilege was abused.
We’ve written a whole post about natural and logical consequences along with some great ideas to help inspire you, which you can read here.
Provide a choice. If you catch your child in a lie and want a way to encourage him or her to come clean in an attempt to demonstrate the importance of owning up to our mistakes, consider offering a choice. For example, if your child lied about doing his or her homework in favor of playing on his or her iPad, you can present 2 options:
‘I’m not entirely sure you completed your homework. I’m going to leave you alone for 3 minutes, and when I come back I’m going to ask you again. If the answer is still ‘yes’ and I discover you are lying to me, you will lose your iPad for the rest of the day. If you decide your answer is ‘no’ and take the time to complete your home like I asked, you can have your iPad back after dinner.’
This option allows you to follow through with your house rules while simultaneously showing your child that when we admit to our mistakes, the consequences are much lower.
Enforce apologies. Another one of my favorite consequences for kids comes in the form of an apology. This obviously only works if the lie had a direct impact on someone else, but I love the idea of teaching our children the art of apologizing when they are in the wrong. Whether you ask your child to write an apology letter, or provide a verbal apology, the exercise will likely be tedious and uncomfortable, but if you approach it properly, it will have a long-lasting, meaningful impact.
Use a reward chart. While I’m a big believer in the power of good behavior charts, I’m not especially fond of rewarding children for being truthful. With that said, desperate times call for desperate measures, and if you find your little one lying more often than you care to admit, a reward chart may be just what you need to curb his or her problematic behavior. We talk more about reward charts, how to implement them, and our favorite free and paid templates HERE.
Ask your child to choose a consequence. If you’re at your wits end and can’t figure out how to get your child to stop lying, challenge him or her to choose a consequence they feel will be motivating. You may be surprised at what your child comes up with, and it may be the motivator you were looking for!
I hope these tips and strategies help you understand why kids lie, and inspire you to find ways to replace poor behaviors with good ones. Remember to dig deep, establish clear and concise rules and expectations, use positive versus negative reinforcement, be a good role model, use consequences instead of punishment, and remember that respect is a two-way street!
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