Why Children Lie And What Parents Can Do About It

Whether it is conjuring up a tale, uttering half-truths or stating plain lies, most children are likely to indulge in them. Here's an insight into why they lie and what to do about it.

By Hannah S Mathew  • 9 min read

Why Children Lie And What Parents Can Do About It

The Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy explains that lying is all about an individual intentionally making a false statement to another with the intention to deceive.

According to Dr Shobha Teresa George, Family Therapist and Counsellor, Trivandrum, “Like all habits, one learns the habit of telling lies based on what was modelled to them by their significant caregivers and, later on, by peers or popular media influence. Children’s minds register these as the norm. Later on, they begin to lie out of fear of punishment or reprimand. How caregivers handle the first lie sets the stage for further lies. In this regard, the focus ought to be on the reason for the lies rather than the lies themselves. Telling lies springs from an intrinsic fear of losing one’s credibility before others if the truth is known. These fears have to be addressed. In the end, the consequence of telling lies makes us lose our credibility. Lies hurt the very soul that utters it.”

The study ‘Emergence of Lying in Very Young Children’, by Lee and Evans, published in the journal of Developmental Psychology (2013) says that children begin lying as early as 43 to 48 months. Therefore, it is quite possible that your toddler is already saying things to deceive you.

But, what is it that makes the act of lying so prevalent and potent?

Let’s read on to explore more about why our children lie, and the do's and don’ts of tackling your child’s habit of lying and nipping it in the bud.

Why children lie

Between the ages of two and five years

  1. More often than not, children want to maintain peace in their immediate surroundings. Your child may lie to make you feel glad or to protect her friend or a relative.
  2. Young children cannot tell the difference between truths and lies. So, it is possible your child might misunderstand the act of lying as being creative and telling stories.
  3. The desire in children to appear intelligent may make them exaggerate the truth and situations.
  4. Biology has a hand in it too. When growth hormones confuse children and they have too little time to react to something, lying seems like an easy way out.

Between the ages of six and ten years

  1. If children had been caught lying and the incident had not been properly addressed, they may have lost face or confidence. So, they could easily identify themselves as habitual liars.
  2. Peer pressure can cause children to lie in order to feel accepted.
  3. “It’s not a lie unless you get caught” is widely believed by children. Children may believe this to be true and resort to lying.
  4. Some children may be tempted to behave in a dishonest manner to exact revenge from peers who have hurt them.
  5. Children may lie to find their way out of a difficult situation.

Other reasons why children lie 

When you -

  1. Frequently compare your child to other children. This may make her feel unaccepted and she may tell lies to gain your acceptance.
  2. Are insensitive to, or ignorant of, her emotions. This can cause her to lie so that you don’t treat her harshly.
  3. Lack control over her exposure to media, which could introduce her to lying and make her pick up the habit.
  4. Make her feel that she is a bad child because she lies. This will only make her feel licensed to lie.
  5. Often tell lies in your daily life. There is a good chance that she may feel like the odd one out if she doesn’t indulge in dishonesty. This can motivate her to lie.
  6. Don’t address the reason behind your child’s habit of lying. This can prevent her from quitting the habit.
  7. Share a toxic relationship with your spouse which exposes her to your feelings of anger and frustration. This can prompt your child to indulge in lying.
  8. Do not give your child proper guidance but punish her often for her mistakes. This might puzzle her and she may lie to avoid such episodes.
  9. Threaten your child and inculcate a sense of fear. This can prompt her to lie to escape the consequences.
  10. Give her complicated explanations and directions. Your child may not be able to handle the information overload and she is likely to lie to avoid these.

What to do to make your child quit the habit

  1. It is important to be a good model of truthfulness at all times. Your child observes you closely and imitates your actions.
  2. Oppose the habit of lying and not him, because it is the habit that should be shunned and not the liar. Explain to him that he is a good individual and shouldn’t practise this bad habit.
  3. Avoid long speeches and confront the lie in a short and straightforward manner.
  4. Privacy is important to him; therefore, don’t tell anyone about the lying episode. Keep it between you and him.
  5. Don’t scare your child before you take up the matter of lying with him. He needs to feel that he is being helped and guided. He mustn’t feel like he has committed a crime.
  6. Let him know the consequence of lying. For example, lies breed lies – as he will have to cover up old lies with new ones.
  7. Praise every instance of honesty, no matter how small. Rewards and praise would encourage him to be truthful more often.
  8. Dinnertime and bonding time should include conversations on the topic of ‘resisting temptation’. Let him know of how you face and overcome temptation.
  9. Tell him stories that deal with the habit of lying like ‘Pinocchio’, ‘The Boy Who Cried ‘Wolf' and ‘The Man Who Never Lied’.

These measures can be easily incorporated but, the environment your child lives in also contributes greatly to his ability to lie. In fact, according to Polygraph Expert and Professor of Psychology Leonard Saxe, lies have become a characteristic of life and every day has its dose of deceptions. As a result, your child faces lies and opportunities to lie every day! For that reason, it is important to step up your pace in educating and guiding her to keep away from lying.

Hannah S. Mathew is an Assistant Professor of English, a Freelance Writer, Soft Skills Trainer, Learning Content Developer, Mentor, Diagnostic Counsellor and devoted mom to a teenager.

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