Why kids lie

How to behave as a parent if a child lies


AmeliWritten by Ameli
Cognitive Psychologist


Let’s try to make a table of reasons why kids lie: out of fear, to increase their own status, out of politeness…..

There are understandable things: a child did something wrong, got a D, wants to avoid punishment, and then lies. Or did something shameful – he hides. But what to do if the child lies at any time and for any reason. For example, you ask him: did you go on an excursion with the class today? He answers: yes, we went, and even tells something. And then it turns out that there was no excursion, because the teacher was sick. So why lie about it?!

There is nothing shameful, forbidden in canceling the excursion, in the illness of the teacher is not to blame. And by lying, the child only complicated everything: he had to make up something about the content of the excursion. And questions arise: Where’s the logic and why is he lying?!

Let’s be honest, almost all adults also occasionally like to lie, and do not consider it something particularly bad. But children’s lies, for some reason, scare adults.

Yes, children’s lies are often different from adult lies of special sophistication and artistry. Quite often they get carried away in the process, and then their lies go far beyond the boundaries of not only reality as such, but also generally accepted morality.

There may be many reasons for children’s lies. And the banal “fear of punishment”, according to my observations, is not so common. “Afraid” children mostly just keep quiet and carefully hide their secret.

Pure unbridled children’s imagination is usually also quite easy to denounce. Here, children’s “inventions” are aimed at arousing the emotions of those around them. The surprising thing is that children, sometimes, it does not matter what it will be emotions: negative are no worse than positive. Thus, one five-year-old often told his mother that while she sleeps at night, he runs away from home and walks through the dark city alone … Mom, of course, did not believe, but just in case she was scared.

In each of these cases, you have to look for individual causes. Sometimes they are found, sometimes not. Sometimes the situation resolves itself. But maybe it’s possible to come up with some technique to make things easier?

In my work, I often use the technique of “Table of lies”, in which the child notes daily how many times and for what reason he lied during the day. The main thing is that the child knows that for access to this data, he will not be punished. Most often, in such tables, children mark lies “out of politeness”, “out of fear”, something else.

This table works best if the child fills it out in pairs with parents. Try to write down in it all the different reasons for lying that you remember from your own childhood and from your children and grandchildren? Such a table helps me a lot in my work, makes life easier for readers-parents, and it could help someone to understand themselves better, because quite often children and teenagers to a direct question answer (quite sincerely, in my opinion): “I don’t know why I’m lying!”

How to behave as a parent if a child lies

Consultation of a child psychologist with parents concerned about children’s lies, is reduced primarily to the search for individual causes of lying in the child, as well as to the development of individual recommendations for correction. General recommendations are summarized as follows:

#1. It is necessary to determine for what purpose the child uses deception and depending on this to solve the problem. At this stage it is recommended to use the “table of lies”.

#2. If the child is deceiving to draw attention to himself, it is important not to fall for this trick and neutrally assess the situation. It is not necessary to punish or expose, but also do not give a positive meaning to what is said. Punishing a child for lying is also a reinforcement of attention, albeit negative.

#3. When a lie is aimed at improving self-esteem and does not harm anyone, it should be well analyzed. This type of lie is most common in adolescence (“false authority”). Adolescence is a period when there is a growing need to compete with peers and lies are very helpful. It is quite important in this situation to solve the general problem with self-esteem and confidence of the child, the amount of your attention in his direction.

#4. Repeated lying already requires correction, but in a mild form. If parents hear that the story sounds implausible, it is necessary to voice to the child that the way he presents the information sounds fantastic (like a story, like a fairy tale, implausible) and offer to tell the same thing, but as it really was. In this way, there is a gentle pointing out of the lie and a simultaneous encouragement to get it right.

#5. Lies related to significant points such as time spent, place spent, tasks completed, other people’s things taken, etc., require a response. This can be a variety of punishments that should be appropriate to the misbehavior, not prolonged, and give the child a chance to correct. This could be deprivation of games or phone for a few hours, assigning homework, etc. It is important to remember, no matter what the situation turns out to be, the child should always have a chance to make things right!

When a child lies and this leads to serious consequences, becomes threatening, and standard educational measures do not help, it is necessary to turn to a specialist who will determine where lies come from in such a child, and develop a special program of help. It is necessary to address as early as possible, before the behavior has not acquired a protest character, and not joined aggression, because the next stage will be the oppositional position of the child and behavioral disorders. Even such severe consequences can be corrected, but it will take a long time for a team of specialists and parents to work together.

What to read about children’s lies

Why Kids Lie: How Parents Can Encourage Truthfulness Paperback by Paul Ekman pdf

Why Kids Lie: How Parents Can Encourage Truthfulness by Paul Ekman 

Children lie often and in different situations, sometimes it is just a fantasy that adults mistake for a lie, sometimes it is an attempt to brag or take credit for someone else’s accomplishments, sometimes it is a lie out of fear or a “lie for good”. Paul Ekman, in his book “Why Kids Lie: How Parents Can Encourage Truthfulness”, the world’s foremost expert on lying, tells parents why and at what age children begin to lie, how their lies change as they get older, and how a child learns to deal with their lies by bypassing their conscience. Dr. Ekman teaches parents how to encourage honesty and truthfulness in their children so that they have no desire or benefit to lie.

The book is intended for people working in social scients. Psychologists, educators, parents, caregivers, nannies. People who are interested in the manifestation of emotions, the development of emotional intelligence.