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Why Are You Lying to Me? Understanding Why Kids Lie and Encouraging Honesty

Have you ever asked your child to clean his or her room only to have them tell you a short while later that it is done? Have you gone to look only to discover the room hasn’t been touched? By that point, you likely feel frustrated that your child has flat out lied to your face.

Obviously, your child knows you are going to discover the lie, so why tell it anyway? Are children telling lies an indicator that a life of delinquency is in their future? Fortunately, the answer is no. In fact, their tendency to lie is a healthy sign of brain development and a normal, expected behavior for all children.

Believe it or not, not telling a lie every now and then should be more of a concern. Children telling lies is a behavior that starts around 3 to 4 years of age, and indicates that your child’s cognitive development is on track.

Reasons for Telling Lies

When a young child lies, it indicates that they understand they can create an alternate reality to events. They also realize they need to use their executive functioning skills, and have the confidence to tell someone the story is true.

Your child is realizing that they have their own thoughts, ideas, and feeling outside of primary caregivers. Keep in mind that lying seems to peak between the ages 6-10, and decreases as they get older and understand that there are consequences to lying.

There are common reasons to explain children telling lies. Typically, the child wishes to avoid getting in trouble for a mistake they made or something they did. With younger children, the lies often develop because they want to play or because they speak out of wishful thinking.

School age children, on the other hand, are far more socially aware, and may lie to avoid hurting someone else’s feelings. In other words, this indicates that your child has hit another important developmental milestone by taking how others feel into consideration.

When you come across older children telling lies, consider that it is because they usually do not want to disappoint or let someone down. Lying seems like an attractive alternative for older children who want to avoid the consequences of a punishment, too.

So What Can You Do About It?

Fortunately, there are certain ways you can tackle your child’s tendencies toward lying. The following are just some tips that can help.

  • Be a model of good behavior, of course! Your child learns from everything you say and do. Anytime you speak to another person, your child listens in carefully and makes note of any inconsistencies in your story. Avoiding any form of lying is not as easy as you might think. Studies show that parents lie quite often in their daily conversations. If you do tell a lie, your best bet is to explain to your child why you did it.
  • Before you question your child about a lie told to you, ask your child to promise that he or she will tell you the truth. It is much harder to lie when you make a promise to someone you love, especially for children.
  • Do not question your child about the lie. Instead, use corrective statements. For example, if you ask your child to put their bike away and they say they did when they didn’t, you could say, “I know you forgot to put your bike away, so please put it away next time so it does not get stolen.” Do not make the mistake of inviting your child to lie by asking, “Did you forget to put your bike away again?”
  • Make sure you reward honesty. When your child is honest with you, complement the honest behavior by saying something like, “Thank you for telling me the truth. I really appreciate your honesty.”
  • Provide your child with reassurance by letting them know that you love them unconditionally. Focus on lying as a behavior, and separate from who your child is as a person.
  • Do not attempt to control your children. Children often lie to explore what they like and what they want to do. They are lying to please you, but have a desire to learn about themselves and expand their world.
  • Foster an understanding approach to mistakes, and let kids know mistakes are opportunities to grow and learn. Let your child know that mistakes do not make them a bad person so they do not feel they must cover up those mistakes with lies.
  • Explain to your children there will be times when they need to lie, such as to keep themselves safe with strangers. Discuss situations when lying might be an acceptable or necessary behavior.
  • Encourage open communication and trust building rather than focusing on the problematic behavior of lying. Focusing on what your child does right and rewarding honesty is the fastest way to diminish misbehavior and lying.

It is only natural to feel frustrated when dealing with children telling lies, but using the tips above can help both you and your child get through this perfectly healthy, natural phase. However, if you still feel concern over your child’s lying, you should speak with a therapist. A therapist can help you work out solutions and determine the best way to correct the problem.

Monica Ramunda is a solution-focused therapist with an office located in Louisville, Colorado for in-office visits. With a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology and more than 16 years experience in therapy and counseling, Monica works as both a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and Registered Play Therapist (RPT) with adults and children respectively. Much of Monica’s success is based on her eclectic orientation and drawing on a wide range of different approaches and techniques all while remaining strongly grounded in the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Techniques (CBT).