Why does a child lie and what to do?


In our lives, we encounter lies almost every day. However, deceit from no one causes such a painful reaction as from our own little one. In this article, we will figure out how to teach a child not to lie, and most importantly, why they do it.

When do children start lying?

Children learn the art of lying from an early age, and usually the first deception appears at the age of 3. At this point, toddlers begin to understand that adults cannot read their thoughts, so they can allow themselves to tell lies.

Children actively lie at the age of 4-6. During this period, they can already compare their facial expression with the intonation of their voice and what they say to those around them, hoping for their persuasiveness.

As they grow older, this skill gains momentum, and sometimes children succeed in it. Identifying lies is difficult to recognize due to the child’s increased vocabulary, as they can argue what they say.

In adolescence, the skill of lying is fully mastered by children. Due to the understanding of certain situations, they may start lying for the benefit of showing tolerance towards other people.

Reasons for child’s lying

A child may tell a lie for several reasons:

  • To cover up their own misbehavior and protect themselves;
  • To test the opponent’s reaction;
  • To embellish certain events;
  • To get attention;
  • To get what they want.

Sometimes, small children may lie and then believe in what they said. This process is related to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Clinical psychologist Carol Brady discussed the relationship between ADHD and lying for the scientific journal ADDitude: “The hallmark of impulsive-type ADHD is that children speak first and think later, which is why you will encounter lying many times. Sometimes these children really just forget,” she says. “In my practice, I see children who sincerely claim, ‘I thought I did my homework. I really thought I knew. I forgot I had an extra assignment.”

Sometimes a lie can hide something bigger than just small misdeeds. Let’s delve deeper into this.

Lies related to psychological problems

Sometimes a child cannot tell adults about problems that may arise not due to their fault. This may refer to cruel treatment from adults, violence, bullying, and many other things. In this case, the child lies because he or she is afraid of subsequent punishment. What should you do if you notice that a child is lying about serious problems:

  1. Convince the child that he or she will be safe if he or she tells the truth.
  2. Build confidence in yourself and your abilities, so that he or she understands that he or she can really rely on you.
  3. Consult a child psychologist.

Sometimes teenagers may lie because of their thoughtless actions, sometimes even of a criminal nature. In such cases, you cannot remain alone with the problem – in addition to parental support, the involvement of a qualified specialist is important.

How to teach a child not to lie?

Parents can eradicate this negative quality in their child by systematically emphasizing the importance of honesty within the family. The following tips can help:

  • Talk to your child about how lying is unacceptable towards other people. For example: “How would Mom feel if Dad lied to her?”
  • Help your child avoid situations where they feel the need to lie. For example, if you see your child spill milk, you may decide to test them on whether they will lie or not about their involvement in the incident. Predictably, the child may be tempted to lie. To avoid this situation, you can simply say, “I see there was an accident with the milk. Let’s clean it up.”
  • Praise your child for confessing to their wrongdoing. For example: “I am so glad you told me about this. Let’s work on the problem together to figure it out.”
  • Set an example by telling the truth. For example: “I made a mistake in the report I already submitted to the boss. I approached the director and let her know about my mistake so that we can fix it.”
  • Respond to your child’s lies with creativity, as this will encourage them to confess to the lie. This advice mostly works with preschool-aged children. For example, your child may say, “My teddy bear broke the toy car.” You can lead your child to the truth in this way: “I wonder why the teddy bear did that?” And keep joking until they confess to their own lie.

When should you seek help?

Dr. Victoria Talwar, a philosopher and researcher at McGill University in the United States, helped us determine the line between normal and excessive lying that children may engage in. In an interview with the American Psychology Association, she states that lying is a normal part of life. The question is, how much of it is coming from a child’s mouth, and what is behind it?

“A psychologist should be consulted if a child’s lying goes beyond all norms. A specialist can help not only the child in correcting their behavior, but also the parents, in understanding how to react to the lies. Conflicts stemming from lying result in mistrust on both sides.”

The doctor also recommends behavior correction with a specialist if:

  • The child does not admit to lying and does not take responsibility, nor attempts to make up for it;
  • The child practices theft or bullying and does not acknowledge their wrongdoing;
  • The child does not experience remorse when their lies are exposed.

If you suspect your child has ADHD, it is necessary to seek additional consultation with a psychiatrist to confirm or refute the diagnosis.

If your child lies, do not rush to label them as a liar. Sometimes, a constructive dialogue is enough, where the parent understands why the child said something one way or another, and the child, in turn, promises to be completely honest.

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