When Kids Lie

When Kids Lie

Apr 03, 2024

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When kids lie, it can feel personal or like a moral issue. But just like so many other challenging behaviors, it is a strategy that your child uses to communicate their negative emotion. It’s normal kid behavior (not a character flaw). 

In this episode, I’ll share a handful of common reasons kids (or anyone for that matter) lie, why trying to get the truth out of them usually doesn’t work and what you can do instead when your kid lies.

Often, lying happens when your kid has a problem that they don’t know how to solve or get out of. It seems like an easy solution to them. They can just lie and avoid dealing with it altogether. It’s really as simple as that.

We don’t need to cloud the issue with arguments about respect or disrespect. We can simply look at it as a skill gap. It is your job as a parent to teach your child how to solve problems in better ways. 


Why Kids Lie

When you understand why your kid is behaving the way they are or using a certain coping strategy, it helps you to have more compassion as you look at the underlying issue and try to solve for it.

Lying is interesting because the underlying motivations can be a little bit complicated. Sometimes, they lie and actually talk themselves into believing that what they’re saying is true. 

The underlying emotion that drives lying is usually fear of some kind, but it shows up in several different ways. These are the most common reasons kids lie.

To Avoid Trouble. Maybe they forgot to feed the dog or do a chore. They don’t want to do it, and they don’t want to get in trouble for not doing it, so they tell you it’s already done. This can also show up with siblings in the old, “I didn’t do it; She did it,” type of argument. 

To Protect Themself (or you). Your child might want to protect their identity and your thoughts about them. They don’t want to see the disappointment or negative judgment on your face. They’re afraid that you won’t like them anymore or will think they’re a loser, a bad person, etc.

They might also try to protect you from feeling disappointed in them. They want you to continue thinking they’re a good kid. 

To Get Something. Sometimes, kids lie to get something they want, like telling you their homework is done so they can have screen time. 

To Be Seen. We’ve all heard a kid tell a really grandiose story about themselves or something that happened in their life. These kids likely feel uninteresting or unimportant, and they lie in order to get someone’s attention. 

To Avoid Embarrassment. This can show up with kids who are being bullied (although there are many other things they might feel embarrassed to share, too). Either they can’t find a way to tell you or they don’t trust that you won’t tell someone else about it. 

Little kids, in particular, lie a lot. Especially under age 6, they want you to believe they’re good. They’ve found this strategy to avoid discomfort, so they go all in on it. 

If they see that you can handle their behavior and believe they’re a good kid, they’ll grow out of it. Connect with them, set a limit, give a correction and move on. 


What To Do When Kids Lie

When our kids lie to us, we tend to have a lot of negative thoughts about them. We get really angry, so we're not neutral or curious about their behavior. That’s why, as always, getting calm is the first step. 

Get curious about their reason for lying. This is really helpful, because then you can tap into compassion and soothe that underlying fear that they have. Your response might change based on the need they are trying to get met with the lie. 

Don't corner your child. This is more challenging than it sounds because we feel strongly that we want our kids to confess. Especially as they get into the teenage years, it can feel like the decisions and behavior that they're lying about are dangerous. We get really worried, and we want them to tell us the truth so that we can problem solve with them. 

We might try to trap or trick them into telling us the truth, but this really isn’t helpful.

Think about it from your kid’s perspective. If they admit to the lie, they're busted for two things. They're busted for the problem behavior, and now they're lying. So they might as well just stick to the lie. There’s no benefit to them to confess.

Assume that they’re struggling, and that the lying is part of their coping. Don’t make it mean something terrible about them or about your relationship. 

Deal with the behavior, not the lying. When we get caught up in the lie and mad at our kid because they’re lying, we make it more difficult for them to feel safe with us. 

Telling the truth isn't a necessary part of the solution. When you have the information, you don't need to wait until your child confesses. You can just explain that this is what you believe to be true, and this is how we're moving forward. This is the consequence.

Another way you can approach this is by using preview. Say, “I'm gonna ask you a question, and you might not want to tell me the truth. You might want to lie to me. But whatever you did, I know it's not who you are. I love you, and it's totally okay to make mistakes. I just wanna help you improve your behavior. Do you think you can be honest with me?”

If they tell the truth, great. If not, you can let them know the information you have that you believe to be true and what’s going to happen next. 

Be in your leadership energy. State the issue and what you believe to be true. Communicate what’s going to happen next (limit, consequence, etc.) and move on. Let them know you can handle their behavior, and that you’re not going anywhere. 

Give your child language to describe the outlandish stories they’re telling. Ask them, “Is this a tall tale or a true story? Is this something you wish happened or is this something that actually happened?” 

Stories are fun and imagination is great, but we do want to help our kids understand the difference and give them the opportunity to tell us the truth. 

Give reassurance. A lecture about why lying is disrespectful and they need to tell the truth doesn’t help. It actually makes it worse because you’re piling on the shame. It increases, rather than decreases, their insecurity (which is why they’re lying in the first place). 

Say something like, “You know what, sweetie? Situations like this happen all the time. You're still learning. You're still growing. I love you, and I'm not worried about you. It's okay to make mistakes. You’re going to fix this mistake and we’re going to move on.” 

I hope you’ll take away the idea that you don’t need to get caught up in the lie. Step into your leadership energy, connect with your kid, hold them accountable and move forward. 


You’ll Learn:

  • Common lies kids tell and what might be behind them
  • Why getting your child to confess isn’t actually that helpful
  • How to step into your leadership energy to deal with misbehavior 
  • What your kid really needs when they’re using lies to cope

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